Ocean Currents » noaa http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 29 Aug 2016 20:57:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Losing the Gold, American Fisheries at Risk http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/24/losing-the-gold-american-fisheries-at-risk/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/24/losing-the-gold-american-fisheries-at-risk/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 18:22:37 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12730

Who needs to know that American fish stocks may be once again at risk?

Everyone who dines on American seafood.

Every coastal town from the Northeast to the Gulf to Alaska that relies on commercial fishing.

Every U.S. marina where recreational fishing boats are moored.

Everyone who depends on a healthy marine ecosystem needs to know that in the next few weeks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is preparing to finalize changes to the science-based policies that form the backbone of how we manage our fisheries. These proposed rules could return our nation to the dangers of overfishing, threaten entire fish species, put fishermen and charter boat businesses at risk and undercut restaurants and coastal tourism as we experienced in the 1980s and 1990s.

The law is the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), and National Standard 1 is the rule under MSA that guides our nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils in setting catch limits, assessing the health and abundance of fish stocks, regulating bycatch and other policies. Since 2006, under MSA, thanks to science-based catch limits and effective stock assessments, 30 fish stocks that were once severely decimated have been rebuilt to sustainable levels and those fisheries have been reopened.

Now, NOAA is quietly preparing to alter National Standard 1. Their proposal threatens seafood sustainability by:

  • Increasing the risk of overfishing. Currently, if the catch on a fish stock exceeds safe levels in one year, fisheries managers are required to take corrective action immediately. The new proposal allows managers to average a high year’s catch with two other years and delay taking action in the hope that fishermen don’t catch too much fish in the following year. Furthermore, managers can raise fishing quotas by carrying over uncaught fish from a previous year without determining if the catch was depressed because the fish population was smaller than managers had estimated.
  • Allowing extended overfishing. Under the new proposal when scientific information indicates that catch reductions are necessary to protect fish stocks, managers can choose to phase in reductions more slowly that currently allowed. This puts fish stocks at risk over multiple reproductive seasons, rapidly amplifying impacts to the population as a whole.
  • Excluding important fish species from management: Under the new proposal, the trigger that determines when regional fishery council management needs to step in to manage a fishery can be influenced by short-term or economic factors, the existence of weaker state fisheries management, or industry self-regulation interests. In other words, science-based management and appropriate conservation could be jettisoned leaving fish stocks at risk.
  • Removing oversight. Currently, the MSA requires the Secretary of Commerce to review all fish stock rebuilding plans to determine if they are making progress. Under the proposed new rule, the secretary is only required to determine if the plan is being implemented as intended regardless of whether the health of the fish stock is improving.

It is both surprising and extremely disappointing that the Obama Administration would propose weakening our nation’s core fishery management rules—the very rules that have built this Administration’s stellar record of ending overfishing and rebuilding once depleted stocks. If these changes are implemented, we risk throwing away ten years of successful fisheries management. Since 2006, under MSA’s science-based policies, we have seen fisheries rebound and communities on the brink of collapse rebuild. But make no mistake, even with this success there are still many American fish populations that need close, science-based management if they are to return at all. The Atlantic cod, for example, was so fished out that it will be many seasons yet before their number has reproduced and grown strong enough to support a fishery again.

In this day and age, the technologies available to commercial and recreational fishermen are so advanced that it is possible to rapidly deplete our fish stocks. We saw this happen in the 1980s and 1990s, and it can happen again, if we don’t maintain strong fishing rules that exert some self-control.

We cannot afford to abandon our current gold standard fisheries management policies. I urge you to tell the Obama administration that it is unconscionable to allow NOAA to gut our nation’s fisheries rules.

Take action now and tell NOAA to strengthen, not weaken, our nation’s fishery conservation and management standards.

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Caring for Crabs is Caring for the Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/23/caring-for-crabs-is-caring-for-the-coast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/23/caring-for-crabs-is-caring-for-the-coast/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:40:15 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12140

San Franciso Bay Area Dungeness crabber Captain John Mellor

“We’re like the Giants. We’re your hometown team,” said Captain John Mellor last week as he described the San Francisco Bay Dungeness crab fishing fleet. Capt. Mellor’s pride in his work as a crabber is paired with a love for what he does. But, his feelings are mixed with fear for the future. A West-Coast wide toxic algae bloom shut down the fishery last year, leaving him out of work for five months. Fishermen and researchers are also worried that ocean acidification could represent a looming threat to the fishery that could cause future fishing disruptions.

Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) pointed out that understanding ocean acidification’s effects on Dungeness crab is “an economic imperative” as he introduced Thursday’s briefing, which he co-hosted with Rep. Don Young (R-AK). He underscored the need to know more about how Dungeness will respond, because the commercial fishery and the recreational activities around the crabs are a particularly important financial engine for the West Coast.

After a screening of the new short film “High Hopes,” which offers a five-minute look at the concerns of scientists and Dungeness crabbers about the fishery, NOAA scientist. Dr. Paul McElhany and Capt. Mellor participated in a question-and-answer session with about 50 attendees. McElhany described his new research, which shows that young Dungeness crabs grow slowly under ocean acidification conditions simulated in the lab, and many don’t survive to adulthood. He explained, “It’s important to think about ocean acidification now, while the fishery is healthy,” to get ahead of any lasting problems that may arise in the water.

Mellor and McElhany both agreed that developing partnerships between scientists and the industry could go a long way towards providing data critical for understanding what Dungeness face. Mellor reminded attendees that seafood, including Dungeness, is “a public trust, but ultimately it’s the lifeblood of San Francisco Harbor.” So it’s important for us to take care of that. Continued strong research funding for ocean acidification’s research on species like Dungeness crab will go a long way towards caring for the family-owned fishing businesses and coastal communities on the West Coast.

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Will Ocean Acidification Affect Dungeness Crabs? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/18/will-ocean-acidification-affect-dungeness-crabs/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/18/will-ocean-acidification-affect-dungeness-crabs/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 18:55:45 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12122

2016 hasn’t been a good year for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery. The fishing season that typically spans the winter months – worth $212 million in 2014  – got significantly delayed this year when Dungeness crabs tested high for domoic acid, which sickens humans, and managers shut down the fishery. The crabs had fed heartily on a giant toxic bloom of Pseudonitschia algae, which produce domoic acid, and which were thriving in an unusually warm body of water stalled offshore, affectionately called “the blob.” The bloom also shut down other West Coast shellfish fisheries, too. The lost harvests equal lost income for West Coast communities. San Francisco Bay Area crabber John Mellor says, “If crabs were to disappear from the picture, I think it would be the end of my fishing career at this point.”

Both fishermen and scientists are asking what’s next for this fishery. It’s possible that ocean acidification could be the next big challenge it faces. NOAA research shows that Dungeness crab larvae exposed to ocean acidification in the laboratory develop slowly, and more of them die before adulthood. In addition, research from the University of California, Los Angeles shows that Pseudonitschia (toxic algae) produce more domoic acid under simulated ocean acidification conditions in the laboratory. But, the science is still young.

We need to know more about how Dungeness crab will respond to ocean acidification and all the overlapping environmental changes happening in our waters. Bay area crabber Josh Churchman agrees, “We could use a little more information and education about [ocean acidification], I would say.” Our new short film, “High Hopes,” takes a 5-minute look at the concerns of scientists and Dungeness crabbers about the fishery. The recent NOAA research promises to be just the first of many studies that will help us shield Dungeness crabs, certainly one of our staff’s favorite seafoods, from ocean acidification.

 

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Our Ocean Remains a Presidential Priority http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/09/our-ocean-remains-a-presidential-priority/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/09/our-ocean-remains-a-presidential-priority/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 18:41:11 +0000 Addie Haughey http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11450

Strong funding proposed for ocean conservation in President Obama’s final budget proposal.

Today, President Obama laid out his final “to-do list” in the form of his proposed federal budget for the coming fiscal year. Ocean Conservancy is pleased to see this administration continue to prioritize the ocean, not least because it contributes more than $343 billion annually to the nation’s GDP and supports 2.9 million jobs through fisheries and seafood production, tourism, recreation, transportation and construction.

You’d be right in thinking President Obama’s proposed budget is a big deal for our ocean.

Of course it’s not a done deal but we should still take a moment to celebrate that our ocean remains a significant priority as we work together to tackle huge challenges like climate change through science-based solutions and effective policies.

The president has proposed $5.8 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our nation’s premier ocean agency. This would include $1 billion for the National Marine Fisheries Service and $570 million for the National Ocean Service – two key parts of NOAA that protect, restore, and manage our ocean and coasts. NOAA’s mission is to make sure that we have a healthy ocean that can support the economy and the communities that depend on it.

Ocean Conservancy is encouraged to note these three recommendations made today:

  1. A $12 million increase for investments in finding solutions to the challenge of ocean acidification. NOAA’s ocean acidification program coordinates research, maintains a water quality monitoring program to track acidification, develops strategies and techniques for business and communities to adapt, and provides critical research grants to improve understanding of ocean acidification’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
  2. An initial investment of $10 million for the first-ever federal ocean trust fund. The National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund was created by Congress late last year in a major victory for ocean champions on Capitol Hill, who have pushed for such a fund since it was first recommended by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in 2004. This initial investment will allow the new fund to begin its important work, providing grants that improve our understanding of the ocean and support sustainable ocean uses.
  3. A four-fold increase in grants to support ocean resilience in regions across the country. Building resilience is critical for communities and economies that are facing major changes in the ocean, from climate change to emerging ocean industries like offshore wind. Resilience can only be achieved at the regional level, with communities, states, and federal agencies working together to share their collective knowledge and experience and establish a unified direction. NOAA’s innovative grant program supports this approach.

What next?

There is a long way to go before the budget is finalized.  The President’s budget is just the first step in a multi-month process in Congress to arrive at a final budget for next year. In the coming months both the House and the Senate will respond to the President’s budget with proposals of their own.

I know that you will work with Ocean Conservancy to advocate for the best investments to ensure our ocean, and the people that most depend on it, continue to thrive.  You can help President Obama make this vision a reality for the ocean next year by reaching out to your Member of Congress to express your support for a healthy ocean.

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How Our Ocean Scored in the Omnibus Spending Bill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/18/how-our-ocean-scored-in-the-omnibus-spending-bill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/18/how-our-ocean-scored-in-the-omnibus-spending-bill/#comments Fri, 18 Dec 2015 20:20:08 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11243

This holiday season, we at Ocean Conservancy have a lot to be thankful for. At the very top of our list is you—our members, supporters and partners—who make our work possible.

Thanks to your tremendous support (24,000 of you contacted your member of Congress in support of a budget deal that would benefit the ocean and another 10,000 signed a petition to President Obama in support of the National Ocean Policy) we saw strong outcomes for ocean conservation in the omnibus spending bill that passed House and Senate today. 

How our ocean scored in the omnibus spending bill:

  • More funds to tackle ocean acidification – The budget for NOAA’s ocean acidification program increased from $8.5 million to $10 million dollars annually. This will help fund science to better understand how acidification will impact coastal communities across the U.S. Acidification is impacting coastal jobs and communities as increasingly acidic water dissolves the shells of animals, spelling trouble for oysters, clams and mussels as well as the people that grow them. Increased funding in a tough political environment is a testament to the hard work of all the stakeholders, including you, that weighed in with Congress on the critical importance of addressing this threat.
  • First-ever Ocean Trust Fund – This is something that the ocean conservation community has been working towards for well over a decade. It finally happened thanks to the work of some tenacious champions on Capitol Hill and your support over the years. The existence of this fund has the potential to help work on virtually all ocean issues ranging from protecting marine mammals to climate change resilience. We need to find money to fill the coffers but this is a moment to savor. We achieved something that has taken our community a very long time to get across the finish line.
  • Stronger National Ocean Policy – We are celebrating that all of the anti-National Ocean Policy riders were struck from the final budget deal. The NOP encompasses dozens of programs across the federal government and enables agencies that focus on the ocean to work together. It makes no sense to weaken a policy that helps the government do its work.
  • Marine Mammal Stranding Network – Remember our action alert highlighting this program? Well, the good news is that we know that it was funded in the final deal, despite a risk that it could have been cut.
  • Red snapper disaster averted The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “Scott amendment” that would have defunded and upended red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico was struck from the final budget deal. This is a major win, especially for the red snapper fishermen who worked tirelessly to defeat an amendment that would have been devastating for both fish and fishermen.

One area that raises concern is state boundary for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. The omnibus spending bill did include some language changing the state maritime boundary for management of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This means big confusion and uncertainty for federally-permitted fishermen. And it means big challenges for those responsible for rebuilding this iconic fishery. The Ocean Conservancy team is already working on how to turn that loss around. Expect to see more on that in 2016.

All in all, we should be happy with the outcomes for our ocean. Of course our work is never done, but for this rather wonderful moment in time, please join me in celebrating what we have been able to achieve together.

What a great way to end the year – thank you!

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Nationwide, Fisheries Landings Continue to Break Records Thanks to Sound Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 08:00:35 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11085

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”

That commercial fishing captain’s booming business is a story reverberating in fisheries across the country, and is borne out in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report issued by NOAA Fisheries this fall. The report, which is released annually, shows that U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish with a dockside value of $5.4 billion, a volume that is higher than average for the past five years.

Recreational fisheries are seeing steady increases in landings as well. Here in the Gulf of Mexico the iconic red snapper fishery saw the highest allowable catch on record, at 14.3 million pounds of fish for 2015. Higher catch limits will ultimately result in more days on the water for recreational fishermen headed to the gulf to wet their lines from across the country as the stock continues to rebuild.

Out on the water, fishing is good because of good management practices put into place by federal regulators under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Simply put, the law works, and commercial and recreational fishermen are reaping benefits while stocks continue to rebuild end ecosystems continue to rebound.

NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck noted that “sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars for our economy, help keep saltwater recreational fishing as one of our nation’s favorite past times, and help coastal communities remain economically resilient.” For my commercial fishing friend, keeping fisheries sustainable will keep his business prosperous, and thankfully there is good evidence for staying optimistic.

The 2014 Fisheries of the United States report can be found here.

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Unraveling Ocean Acidification’s Mysteries Along the Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/13/unraveling-ocean-acidifications-mysteries-along-the-coast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/13/unraveling-ocean-acidifications-mysteries-along-the-coast/#comments Tue, 13 Oct 2015 19:30:40 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10891

In the past, we’ve shared good news with you about ocean acidification research funds allocated by the Federal government. Ever wonder what sorts of research projects NOAA supports with this money? A few days ago, NOAA announced three new awards to universities totaling $1.3 million to study how ocean acidification is changing the coastal ocean. We already know that nearshore waters are becoming more acidic and losing oxygen. These three universities will be looking at the root causes, and trying to understand what that means for marine plants and animals, and the people that rely on them.

What’s new and particularly ambitious about these projects is that they will study ocean acidification in coastal environments, which are incredibly complex. Not only do coastal waters take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but they also receive fertilizer, sewage, and toxic chemical pollution from coastal development, host vibrant ecosystems, and receive pulses of freshwater runoff after storms. The net effect is that coastal water chemistry is the product of these layered processes. None of the processes happens at the same time or in the same place, making it difficult to understand which processes drive which effects.

Each of these projects includes developing a computer model that will help researchers “connect the dots” in the coastal zone. These models will show how processes work together over time and space to yield current conditions. Researchers on the West Coast, led by University of California Los Angeles, will explore these layered processes for the California Current, which is home to some of the most abundant fisheries on the continent, including oysters, Dungeness crab, and market squid. Researchers based at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi will be doing this for Texas estuaries like the Nueces estuary, near Corpus Christi, which host a variety of marine life yet are surrounded by intense development on land. Texas fisheries facing ocean acidification include oysters, shrimp, and several fin fish that eat shelled marine creatures. Finally, researchers led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences will explore the effect of layered processes on the Chesapeake Bay, one of the largest estuaries in the country, to understand how this may affect ongoing oyster restoration efforts there.

In all the studies, researchers will be sharing their discoveries with natural resource managers. The conclusions will provide information on which real-life policies and strategies could best maintain (or improve) the health of these vital coastal zones. And the lessons learned will help other cities’ and states’ managers care for their coastal waters. There’s going to be a lot of bang for these bucks awarded by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and we can’t wait to learn what new insights the researchers find. Congratulations to all!

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