Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The northern fur seal strandings are the latest in a string of alarming marine events. Experts have been working all year to address an “unusual mortality event” among California sea lions.
Another species of marine wildlife has begun turning up, emaciated and weak, in record numbers on the California coast in what continue to be alarming signs of oceanic distress.
Unhealthy northern fur seal pups have been found stranded on beaches in record numbers, newly weaned and weighing little more than typical birth weight for the species, marine mammal experts said.
“They’re adorable, but on the other hand they’re these little bags of skin and bones,” said Jeff Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center near Sausalito.
As of Friday, the nonprofit center on the Marin Headlands had taken in 85 northern fur seals, which live out in the Pacific Ocean’s waters and islands and would only rarely be found on shore.
That number is more than double the previous record of 31 pups in 2006, according to the center.
Read more at: Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center sees record number of | The Press Democrat
Associated Press, NYTIMES.COM
Sacramento Bee: Starving sea lions spotlight overfishing
Federal regulators on Wednesday approved an early closure of commercial sardine fishing off Oregon, Washington and California to prevent overfishing.
The decision was aimed at saving the West Coast sardine fishery from the kind of collapse that led to the demise of Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name set in Monterey, California.
Meeting outside Santa Rosa, California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to direct NOAA Fisheries Service to halt the current season as early as possible, affecting about 100 fishing boats with sardine permits, though far fewer are actively fishing at the moment. The season normally would end June 30.
Frank Lockhart of NOAA Fisheries Service estimated it would take one to two weeks to notify fishermen and bring sardine fishing to a close.
Earlier this week, the council shut down the next sardine season, which was set to begin July 1.
The action was taken based on revised estimates of sardine populations, which found the fish were declining in numbers faster than earlier believed, and fears that without action sardines could soon reach the status of being overfished.
The council did not take Wednesday’s decision lightly and understood the pain the closure would impose on the fishing industry, said council member Michele Culver, representing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She added that it was necessary because a new assessment of sardine stocks showed they were much lower th
Read more via Federal Fisheries Regulators Halt West Coast Sardine Season – NYTimes.com.
Paul Shively, THE PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS
The population of Pacific sardines, a crucial forage fish for marine life along the U.S. West Coast, has dwindled to the point that it can no longer sustain a commercial fishery, according to a preliminary assessment by scientists advising West Coast fishery managers.
The ongoing collapse is bad news for ocean wildlife, as well as fishermen and others who rely on a healthy ocean.
This is a major cause for concern, but it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. In 2012, two government scientists predicted we would end up in exactly this position, finding a parallel with the last major collapse in the middle of the 20th century. Three years ago, the scientists wrote that “all indicators show that the northern sardine stock off the west coast of North America is declining steeply again and that imminent collapse is likely.
”That prediction turned out to be right.
A panel of scientists advising the Pacific Fishery Management Council is reviewing the draft assessment today, March 6, in Vancouver, Washington. In April, the scientists will make a recommendation to the full council, which has already established plans for an automatic cutoff of commercial fishing for sardines when the population’s biomass estimate falls below 150,000 metric tons. In recent years, the stock size has fallen steadily, from 1.4 million metric tons in 2007 to 300,000 metric tons in the last official stock assessment in August of 2014.
Now, the new draft assessment projects that the population will be less than 150,000 metric tons as of July 1, the beginning of the new fishing season.
Sardines are small individually, but they are a big deal for the ocean food web. They form large schools known as bait balls that provide an oil-rich source of protein for many species of seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish, including salmon and tuna. The estimated size of the West Coast sardine population has fluctuated from several million tons— based on sediment records gathered on the seabed off Southern California—to less than 5,000 tons in the 1960s following the last major collapse.
If the new assessment holds up to scientific review, fishery managers should follow through in April on their harvest guideline protocols and suspend fishing on sardines for the 2015 season. Doing so would give the population a chance to recover as ocean conditions improve.
Read more at: Bad News on the West Coast: Pacific Sardines Are Collapsing