The Blog Aquatic » Greg Helms News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 California Ocean Day, A Little Day with a Big Message: Take Pride in the Ocean! Fri, 21 Mar 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Greg Helms

March 24, 2014, marks the seventh annual California Ocean Day, when Californians from all corners of the state flood the capital, Sacramento, to send a unified message: take pride in our ocean! Ocean Conservancy and numerous other organizations – along with dozens of volunteers, college students and passionate citizens – will spend the day meeting with legislators to discuss key ocean-related issues. The goal is to inspire decision-makers to support policies that protect and restore California’s 1,100-mile coastline, the state’s most recognized attraction and home to its richest natural resources.
This year, California Ocean Day will focus on three main topics:

1. Implementing California’s First-of-its-Kind Marine Protected Area Network

California recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its statewide network of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs), or “underwater parks” – the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Fish, shellfish and marine wildlife thrive inside these refuges which help buffer against threats such as pollution, ocean acidification (OA) and sea level rise (SLR). MPAs also boost local tourism and recreation economies, drawing visitors from around the state and the world. You don’t have to wear fins and a mask to enjoy these coastal hot spots. For a glimpse of the activities California’s MPAs offer, check out our video “How Do You MPA?

Working to secure long-term funding for monitoring, enforcement and education will benefit Californians now and for generations to come. You can pledge your support by signing this MPA Champion petition.

2. Tackling Polluted Runoff and Plastic Pollution

Land-based contaminants and plastic debris pour more pollution into coastal waters than any other source. These pollutants negatively impact the health of humans and wildlife and threaten coastal economies and livelihoods. California spends about $420 million each year to clean up the coast.

Check out the top 10 trash items commonly found during coastal cleanup efforts.

You can pledge to fight trash by signing this petition and help combat ocean pollution by participating in a coastal cleanup event.

3. Supporting Research and Planning for Sea Level Rise and Ocean Acidification

In the coming decades, SLR and OA will bring new challenges to coastal communities and sea life. SLR will affect an estimated 480,000 Californians and create $100 billion in property damages and losses. OA, caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide emissions, is changing the chemistry of the ocean by making it more acidic. This is harming the ability of some animals – like oysters, clams and mussels – to build the shells necessary for their survival. Some shellfish farmers and harvesters are already starting to see changes. Meet some of the people whose jobs, livelihoods and communities depend on this industry in California by watching this video or clicking through this image gallery.

There’s still a great deal that we need to understand and learn about OA. You can help in this effort by urging your members of Congress to allocate more money for research on OA.

The ocean gives us gifts each and every day. Its abundant resources generate $39 billion annually and more than 472,000 jobs, provide more than 35 million pounds of seafood, and offer priceless amounts of aesthetic and recreational enjoyment. California Ocean Day is a special opportunity to give back to the ocean.

While we wish that all of you could join us in Sacramento, there are ways for you to voice your support for protecting the California coast and the ocean as a whole from your home. Tweet about your favorite ocean and coastal activities using the hashtag #CAOceanPride. We’ve included a few examples below. We look forward to seeing your tweets!

Send a tweet to show your support:

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Moving Toward the Future of Fisheries Management Fri, 10 May 2013 15:30:00 +0000 Greg Helms

Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) hunting Pacific Sardines (Sardinops sagax) Pacific / California / USA (Monterey Bay Aquarium)

In Ocean Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report “The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries”, we make three key recommendations about how to improve the already vital law that governs our nation’s fisheries:

  • Minimize the habitat damage and bycatch of indiscriminate fishing.
  • Ensure that adequate forage fish are in the water to feed the larger ecosystem
  • Promote ecosystem-based fisheries management

That’s why we were so excited when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) recently reached a long-awaited milestone in transitioning toward an ecosystem-based approach to managing seafood harvest.  The Council’s adoption of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) establishes not only a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem  in harvest planning and management, but sets a leading example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.

How is ecosystem-based management different?  Instead of focusing on an individual ocean issues or species, the strategy shifts to the entire ecosystems in which such species or concerns exist.  So decision-makers then consider the habitats that ocean wildlife require at each stage of life, their roles as predator and prey, the natural variations in populations in different places and at different times, and of course the critical role played by humans—climate change, ocean acidification, demands for food and recreation, etc.

Until now, managing the vast and life-giving harvest of seafood from the world’s oceans has followed a species-specific approach. This has contributed to well-known and tragic consequences, such as collapsed fisheries and the communities that depended on them.

The Fisheries Ecosystem Plan adopted last month gives the Pacific Fisheries Council a dramatically more comprehensive and useful suite of information to consider when making decisions on fisheries policy.  The plan rests on a description of Pacific ecosystem dynamics that affect, and are affected by, Council harvest policy. It also establishes a set of initiatives to gather and assess additional ecosystem data for to use in future management decisions.  Critically, they can guide Council policy within individual fishery Management Plans and also inform effects and tradeoffs between them.  Initiative #1 will develop data and tools for use in managing the food base for Pacific fisheries – called “forage fish”, an essential ecosystem component, and assist in prohibiting fishing for currently unmanaged species of forage fish.  The Council will discuss this critical preventative measure in June.

Though the Fisheries Ecosystem Plan is informational for now, meaning it holds only advisory power, it is a critical step in establishing a foundation for truly ecosystem-based management.  The real effect of the plan will flow from its ecosystem initiatives, and action on the Forage Initiative in June will reveal how much early stock the Council is putting into its important new ecosystem plan.

These first steps taken in the Pacific region will hopefully serve as early indicators for the rest of the country as we work to promote and improve fisheries management.  Read more about the Law That’s Saving American Fisheries here.

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California to Address “Hidden” Decline in Recreational Ocean Bass Fishery Wed, 24 Oct 2012 01:49:01 +0000 Greg Helms

Kelp aka Calico Bass. Source: CDFG; Photo credit: Rob Johnson

Identifying threats to sea life isn’t always easy. What you see is often far from the whole story. Take kelp bass and barred sand bass, for example. These particular fish tend to get together in the same places at the same time of year. When it comes to spawning, they’re very much creatures of habit.

This makes it easy if your goal is catching them.  These fish also conveniently gather in the summer, when ocean and weather conditions are at their friendliest. You (and a few thousand others) could catch your limit and still be under the impression that these fish populations are healthy.

The problem is, at least in the case of the barred sand bass, we’ve discovered where almost all of the fish are. During the spawn, the overall size of the population doesn’t affect catch levels, due to advanced fish-finding technology and efficient fishing techniques.  Managing fisheries often presents the problem of distinguishing fish availability from fish abundance. Sometimes there are plenty of fish around and none interested in biting.  Here we find the opposite: we can find fish to catch even as their overall numbers are in real decline.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, “Big catches mask dwindling numbers of sea bass.”

The Times story refers to a new study led by Brad Erisman, a postdoctoral marine biology researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego:
“The populations of kelp bass and barred sand bass, two of the most popular — and easy to catch — saltwater fishes in Southern California, have plummeted 90% since 1980… but sport-fishing boats have been able to keep their catch rates high in part because they have consistently targeted bustling offshore spawning grounds, masking the dwindling numbers with an ‘illusion of plenty,’ the study concluded.”  
This isn’t the first time these species have faced trouble. Back in the 1950s, commercial take of both was outlawed due to overfishing. And certainly sea conditions, particularly temperature changes, contribute to population ups and downs. But new, more efficient technology and techniques are facilitating unsustainable catch rates of kelp bass and barred sand bass during the seasonal spawn. Tens of thousands of fish are routinely caught summer weekends from June through August.

Historically, bass productivity has reliably cycled up and down in response to the regular ups and downs of ocean temperature cycles.  But bass are not bouncing back this time around. Too many anglers targeting aggregations of fish is coming home to roost, and by the time anglers notice major catch declines, it’ll be far too late.

Thankfully, California was on the ball, and managers at the Fish & Game Department examined and backed up Scripps’ findings.  But, in order to sustain this popular fishery and repopulate California kelp forests and sand flats with these important fish,   we need to act now.  Fish & Game scientists have identified three actions necessary to do the job:

• increase minimum size limits for these species from the current 12” limit 
• reduce bag limits from a current 10 fish limit 
• institute a prohibition on fishing for two weeks during the spawn to provide a period of uninterrupted spawning.  Fishing is now open year-round. 

But at what levels?  Conservation advocates are recommending changes to recover these populations rapidly and fully.  Others are urging slower, more incremental effort.  Ocean Conservancy supports sustainable fisheries based on science, and believes a 15” minimum size, a two-fish bag limit, and a two-week closure during the height of the spawn is necessary, at least for now.  Over the longer term a greater emphasis must be placed on early warning systems that alert managers and the public to fish population declines. Given the “hidden” nature of this decline, the proposed changes may seem a bitter pill.  But strong medicine is required. 
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