Ocean Currents

Donate Today

Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy


Fishing for Data: How a Day on the Water is Aiding Scientific Success

Posted On February 28, 2013 by

Credit — Kip Evans

When volunteer anglers aboard the Huli Cat bait a hook trying to catch a rockfish, they’re not just fishing – they’re helping researchers learn more about California’s underwater parks. Recreational fishermen, SCUBA divers, PhD scientists and graduate students are working together to study California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), and results from their studies are being presented this week in Monterey.

Five years ago, California completed its network of MPAs on California’s central coast. This anniversary is being marked with the State of the California Central Coast Symposium, which brings together scientists, resource managers, policy makers, fishermen and conservationists to learn about new findings from dozens of monitoring efforts and discuss perspectives on MPA management.

Early results suggest that the reserves are on track, allowing fish like cabezon and lingcod to grow larger and more abundant inside MPAs, with habitats that are more biologically productive. This, along with steadily increasing revenues for fishermen, is good news for the Central Coast MPAs. However, researchers stress that these first five years of study are meant to create a baseline: a barometer of ecological health against which future MPA performance can be measured. So, how exactly are these reserves being studied? It turns out that monitoring is both sophisticated and wonderfully simple.

One great example of this is Dr. Rick Starr’s California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP), which uses local charter fishing boats to monitor four MPAs. Volunteer anglers from the local fishing community team up with graduate students by fishing for rockfish while painstakingly recording the weight and species of every fish they catch and release. They’ve caught over 40,000 fish in the past five years, and have noted how great the fishing is by the relative abundance of some species inside the MPAs.

Another monitoring project is Reef Check, which teams PhD researchers up with citizen scientists who strap on SCUBA gear to survey shallow and deep rocky habitats, kelp forests, rocky shores, estuaries, beaches and other key ecosystems along the central coast. They monitor ecologically and economically important species of fishes and invertebrates, and human activities including fishing and recreational use.

One consistent theme in these studies is that citizens of the coast are vital to the success of the marine reserves. Volunteers have been involved in scores of monitoring and outreach projects. Citizen science efforts like MPA Watch have trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor beach and coastal use in and around protected areas like Natural Bridges and Año Nuevo.

Save Our Shores’ Dockwalker program is another great example of an organization working with coastal citizens to help the MPAs. The Dockwalker program shares information with boaters and fishermen about MPAs, and conducts ocean protection workshops in local schools. In turn, schools are making visits to the underwater parks part of their outdoor education program, because in addition to enabling kids to watch wildlife in nature, many now feature full-color educational interpretive displays and instructor programs.

From school children looking to learn more about marine life to fishermen looking to catch more fish, California’s new marine protected areas are an investment in the future. By studying them with the assistance of citizen volunteers, we are learning about the full range of benefits they provide to marine ecosystems, and becoming better stewards of these places in the process.


Casting a Wider Net for Fisheries Data: Ocean Solutions from Anglers

Posted On February 22, 2013 by

A friend emailed me a link the other day to an article in the Hispanic Business News entitled “App for Anglers also Helps Fisheries Management”. He asked me, “is this legit?” Yes, it is!

The article describes this cool new smart phone app, called iAngler. IAngler is a smart phone app developed through collaboration between research scientists and anglers. At its heart, iAngler is an effort to engage fishermen into fisheries management. The creation of iAngler was largely driven by the Snook and Gamefish Foundation (SGF), who partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for scientific guidance. SGF has developed a fast and easy way for fishermen to make their catch and their fishing experience count. The partnership is already paying off. Information from the program has already been used in FWC’s recent assessment of snook.

As Rick Roberts, Executive Director of SGF says, “we want to promote anglers to keep score of their catch on the water, much like a golfer on the course.” Whether anglers accomplish this via an app for iPhone and android phones or use a simple data card and log the information online from their desktop after a recent fishing trip, the information counts by providing data on angler habits, as well as their catch (or lack thereof), to researchers evaluating stock assessments of a fish.

Continue reading »

Protecting Fish is Good for Business: How a Florida Study Bodes Well for California

Posted On February 11, 2013 by

A school of blue tang — NOAA

According to NOAA’s new study on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, protecting fish is in everyone’s best interest.

The 151-square nautical mile reserve was established in 2001 to protect overfished species. According to Science Daily, the protections have boosted fish populations, with bigger and more abundant yellowtail, mutton snapper and black and red grouper appearing within the reserve. These results are consistent with findings marine reserves around the world, which find again and again that the size, abundance and diversity of marine life increase inside fully protected marine reserves.

The biggest news for resource managers, however, is the socioeconomic implications. The new study finds that commercial catches of reef fish in the region have increased along with the fish population increases, and that neither commercial nor recreational fishermen have experienced financial loss as a result of the reserve.

Continue reading »


What The Fiscal Cliff Means for Conservation in America

Posted On December 11, 2012 by

Credit: Odette Rickert

The fiscal cliff is downright scary for the future of conservation in America. We have to get America’s budget in order, but agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Interior have already had to make painful cuts, and another round of across the board cuts to conservation programs will do more harm than good.

For instance, NOAA oversees the scientific collection and analysis of information for offshore fisheries that generate tremendous revenue for the Nation—from the multi-billion dollar recreational fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to the prized commercial fisheries of the North Pacific.

Across-the-board cuts will not only diminish the ability to prevent overfishing and depletion of national fishery resources that are at risk, they create a bottleneck to expand fishing opportunities and grow coastal economies where hard work has been done to rebuild once-depleted fisheries.

Nowhere is the folly of across-the-board cuts to solve the fiscal cliff crisis more apparent than in the U.S. Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Sport Fish Restoration Program. Continue reading »


Leadership in a Time of National Division

Posted On November 7, 2012 by

Credit: George H. Leonard

After a year-long campaign, the voters have spoken and President Obama will lead the country for another four years. But while the Electoral College was decisive, the popular vote was essentially split; as a group, the American people remain deeply divided over many critical issues facing our nation – from health care to national defense.

This week, while national attention has been focused on politics at the highest level, fishery managers along the west coast quietly demonstrated unity and leadership by voting to advance important protections for forage fish – the small and often forgotten fish that form the base of the ocean food web.

Why is this such a big deal? Because as in politics, fisheries management is often divisive and making progress requires leadership. When our officials take important steps to better protect the ocean we should give credit where credit is due. Continue reading »


Four Things the Election Tells us about the Ocean’s Future

Posted On November 7, 2012 by

As the dust begins to settle after what felt like a never-ending election season, Ocean Conservancy is gearing up for our policy work to begin again in earnest. Our approach isn’t about which party is in charge, it’s about finding solutions for a healthy ocean, wherever they may come from. Here are a few initial reactions and issues to be on the lookout for following the 2012 election:

Continue reading »

California to Address “Hidden” Decline in Recreational Ocean Bass Fishery

Posted On October 23, 2012 by

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.”