The Blog Aquatic » pacific http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Sea Star Epidemic Plagues Oregon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/23/sea-star-epidemic-plagues-oregon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/23/sea-star-epidemic-plagues-oregon/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 17:49:24 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8617

Since June 2013, millions of sea stars along the West Coast have disintegrated and died. Scientists have relentlessly tried to identify the cause of the “sea star wasting syndrome.” (See map of locations with outbreak.)

Typically, the first signs of an afflicted sea star are white lesions appearing on its body. Shortly thereafter, sea stars lose their limbs and their internal organs disintegrate. Although sea stars have the ability to regenerate limbs, the disease often progresses too quickly for them to recover. The exact cause of this disease is unknown. Scientists believe that sea star wasting syndrome may be due to a viral or bacterial infection, and could be exacerbated by increased water temperature. Populations of the ochre and sunflower sea stars, two common West Coast species, have been hit especially hard. Similar die-offs have occurred in the past, but never at the magnitude we see today, and over such a wide geographic area.

Oregon’s sea stars seemed to have been spared the dreadful fate of their West Coast neighbors. However, in recent weeks, Oregon’s monitoring networks have estimated that 30-50% of ochre sea stars in the intertidal area show symptoms of the syndrome. Researchers project that they may see local extinction of ochre sea stars at some Oregon sites.

While pretty to look at, most people do not usually think about the importance of sea stars. They’re not economically beneficial like oysters or salmon. And when you think of the ocean’s top predators—sea stars don’t usually come to mind.

However, sea stars are ravenous hunters who serve an important role controlling sea urchin and other invertebrate populations. Without some sea star species, unchecked populations of sea urchins have the ability to devastate kelp beds, which act as important nesting and foraging grounds for many species of fish.

Though sea star wasting syndrome may only affect sea stars themselves, the impact of the disease can cause a ripple effect through the marine ecosystem. This devastating outbreak highlights the need for consistent science funding and continued marine research. Once the cause and transmission of the disease are known, scientists will have a better idea how the environment will be impacted and whether sea stars will be able to recover.

How can people help? West Coast residents and divers can help scientists by recording observations of where they have and haven’t seen the wasting syndrome in sea stars at seastarwasting.org. This information will help researchers assess and, hopefully reverse this devastating syndrome.

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Moving Toward the Future of Fisheries Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/10/moving-toward-the-future-of-fisheries-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/10/moving-toward-the-future-of-fisheries-management/#comments Fri, 10 May 2013 15:30:00 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5750

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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