Today is the first World Tuna Day, celebrating one of our most important fish. With over 80 countries worldwide having tuna fishing fleets, these “lions of the ocean” supply food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue, livelihoods, culture and recreation to millions of people across the globe.
Some groups are asking that you celebrate by not eating tuna today but I think your time could be better spent reading this letter from the Pew Foundation which gives a frank assessment of the the challenges tuna face moving forward and some successes that scientist and fishery managers are having as they look to protect them.
A lot to think about but I think Tuna are worth it. See you out there.
In a world that seems to be more filled with uncertainty than ever these days, we at California Fine Diving would like to give a little perspective on where we in California are in terms of ocean health. This photo, provided by the Mendocino Historical Society, shows a couple of dapper turn-of-the-20th-century fishermen with what I think we can all agree is a pretty good days effort. From a cursory look, we can probably also agree what they lack in modern fishing technology, they more than make up for with ties and bowler hats. Looking good and fishing good.
Now I’m not posting this just because it’s a great shot( it is wicked cool though). I’m posting it because It gives us a sense of something we’ve lost in terms of abundance and variety that we’ll probably never get back. Look closely at the picture. There are more giant sea bass(GSB) in this picture from one day of fishing than most divers saw during the entire decade of the 90’s. I’m also not saying all is lost BTW. We are seeing a lot of species making a comeback. Divers regularly see GSB these days even if the populations are probably not back to historic levels that existed when this photo was taken. I’m pointing out by posting this picture, however, that we’ve barely started working our way back to a place where we can say our local waters are as healthy as we want them to be. We have to keep working on it. The only way to do this is to stay involved and active. We can’t count on anyone or any entity other than ourselves. We’re all in this together and the ocean you save will be your own.
Stereolepis gigas doesn’t sound much like a king’s name. It sounds more like someone you’re going to buy a gyro from. Don’t be deceived however because this is is the scientific handle of one of the most magnificent creatures you’re likely to encounter diving here in California — the Giant Sea Bass(GSB).
Aptly named because it is actually quite giant, this highly protected species seems to be making a bit of a comeback from it’s darkest day in the early 80’s when California DFG(now the DFW) officials were scrambling to protect this vulnerable and venerable giant from rod and spear. Following a ban on gill netting in nearshore waters in 1994, sightings increased and casual observations over the past 10 to 15 years seem to indicate that this king of the kelp forest is making a comeback. To get real answers, GSB turned to real scientists and the process of collecting relevant data has been carried out in earnest. As a result, we now know a lot more about the life cycle of the GSB than we ever did before and are therefore better equipped to conserve this magnificent creature. One of the lead scientist in the study of Giant Sea bass, Dr. Larry Allen, Biology department Chair at Cal State Northridge and leading GSB expert, is giving a presentation at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium on February 3 to discuss what we now know about the GSB and their chances for recovery. Presented by Alta Sea, this a great chance to learn more about our impact on the animals of the kelp forest and how we can make a difference through community based programs such as the Giant Sea Bass Collective organized through a joint program between CSUN and UCSB. It looks to be a great evening and best of all it’s free. So don’t be a uniformed bump on the log. Get out of the rain and down to San Pedro. We look forward to seeing you out there.
By Dr. Larry G. Allen, California State University, Northridge
Larry is currently Chair and Professor of Biology at California State University Northridge. He has co-authored and edited many publications on the biogeography and ecology of marine fishes of the Pacific coast of North America including the books, “The Ecology of Marine Fishes: California and Adjacent Waters” and “A Field Guide to the Coastal Fishes from Alaska to California.” Dr. Allen will discuss the information that he and his graduate students have compiled on the demise and recent return of the apex predator of California’s southern kelp forests, the Giant Sea Bass, Stereolepis gigas.
Click here for teacher resources related to this lecture.
The Los Angeles Times ran a front page article this week detailing the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission’s 5-year plan to cull 4.8 million purple sea urchin from the cove and reefs on the southern end of the Palos Verdes peninsula. Hopefully as the urchin population is reduced to less than two percent of it’s current state, kelp will flourish and we’ll get to enjoy once more what pioneering scuba divers during the 1950’s knew to be a prime and dynamic example of a healthy kelp forest ecosystem. With $2.5 million in funding from the Monsanto/Montrose Settlement fund, scientists and divers will be working overtime on a 152 sq acre patch trying to bring to fruition a restoration project that has been the dream of local divers and environmentalist for the past 50 years. It’s an exciting time for those of us who love our local waters here in Los Angeles.
One of the most important things to remember when looking at marine restoration and conservation projects is that we can never make things look exactly how they used to be. We won’t be seeing the virgin environment that the those first divers saw as they explored places like Abalone Cove and Whites Point, relying on new technology to open up the nearshore environment. We do however have the chance to make it look the way we want it to, and that would be a healthy and balanced ecosystem. So keep your fingers and webbed toes crossed for success as these local scientist and divers work towards a healthier ocean.
In mid-February, a report was released detailing and assessing the first five years of the Marine Life Protection Act and it’s 29 various reserves along the central coast. In what came as a shock to almost no one, commonly fished species within the boundaries of the reserves were demonstrated to have both increased in average size and in overall biomass. What you might find more interesting is that the feared economic collapse of the fishing industry did not seem to happen either. In fact, CPFVs(Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessels) in all but one of the central coast’s fishing ports reported an increase in the total of paid fishing days per annum as well as other beneficial aspects of the implementation. It’s not all free hot dogs in there but it does appear that there is a lot to be excited about moving forward. For those of you interested in reading it, the e-book version of “State of the California Central Coast: Results from Baseline Monitoring of Marine Protected Areas 2007 – 2012″ is on-line. It’s not as dry a read as you might think and full of interesting material for those of you interested in the MLPA process. As I like to say about scientific reports however, come for the charts but stay for graphs.
Bug season is winding down and we here at California Fine Diving hope you all had very productive seasons and that all your buttery lobster dreams came true. It doesn’t seem to have worked out for the commercial guys this year though. According to published reports, low take north of Pt. Dume has driven wholesale lobster prices to an all-time high of $25 per pound. To put it in perspective, prices usually run about 35% lower but poor catches have resulted in demand outstripping supply. Not a good sign for the fishery at first glance, it does however puts new importance on the gathering of population data to determine the real health of the California Spiny lobster. Lobster report cards are more important than ever as Department of Fish and Wildlife officials try to manage this increasingly coveted resource.
I like abalone. Usually with butter and and a little garlic. I also like them in the ocean but that’s problematic for divers down south. To see healthy populations and to take them as game means driving 9-11 hours north to the often inhospitable Sonoma and Mendicino coastline. The populations of abs south of there have been severely thinned over the past 20 years all along the central coast. As for southern California, they’ve almost been wiped out in the bight by a variety of factors including overfishing and the emergence of withering foot, a devastating disease to abalone populations. Resident populations of any measurable density are rare south of Pt. Conception with one exception…San Miguel Island.
Jutting out at the northern end of the Channel Islands, San Miguel Island is the exception to the rule that says we can’t have nice abalone populations anymore. Because of a variety of environmental factors such as cooler waters and remoteness, red abalone, the staple of the prized north coast fisherys, have historically been present there in sizeable numbers. I know because I took part in a series of surveys in the 2006-2008 to determine the population, size, and density of the resident reds. It was a really amazing cooperative effort that saw diverse groups working together in a way that surprised me. Sponsored by the California Abalone Association, the joint effort saw dozens of divers consisting of fishermen, federal and state biologists, and local NGO’s staff all working side-by-side, counting remnant abs using a standardized DFG protocol over a week-long expedition. I personally rank it as one of the highlights of my scientific diving career and it still makes me smile when I think of our big old flotilla of various pleasure, research, and commercial vessels .and the tangible excitment we all felt as we left each morning to run our transects and get counting. We collected a lot of really good data.
Now the problem with collecting data is that it almost always open to interpretation by basically anyone who can get there hands on it. That’s was what happened when the final reports on the surveys were released. Basically, the state scientists looked at the numbers and estimated a number that was just below the required density to trigger moving forward on a path that might reopen the fishery. The CAA members didn’t accept this at face value and under the leadership of Chris Voss, set about to to do something unheard of for a commercial fishing effort in southern California fishery management. They reached out to the academic community. In short order, they set-up a real working relationship with the Bren school at UC Santa Barbara, contracted with international experts, and eventually came up with a self-funded proposal for an experimental fishing program. Benefits included real practical applications of recovery management skills that would apply to all of the southern California bight as pink and green abs made their way back from the edge. It would also examine how fishing pressure would effect reemerging populations. It was amended and tweaked over several years into a scaled-back proposal that would have amounted to a modest take of a mere 1% of the islands total population while providing lots of needed data and practical information.
The proposal was taken under final consideration by the Fish and Game Commission’s Marine Resource Committee in a public meeting in La Jolla yesterday afternoon. To make a long story short, the proposal was declined to be advanced for consideration by the full Commission. It was not because it was a bad plan or because everybody there were tree huggers who hate commercial fishermen. It was declined because the minimum population threshold as prescribed by the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan was not met based upon the official report issued by the DFG. Simple as that. The funny thing though is after that decision was made, the meeting really got interesting. There was no gloating or cries of outrage. Instead, there was lots of ideas flying around about how maybe San Miguel wasn’t the best spot to try this plan out but that the north coast might be. NGO representatives talked of wanting to find a third path that wasn’t a yes or no answer. One of the F&G Commissioners, Richard Rogers, suggested that maybe it was time to reexamine the threshold numbers in the recovery plan itself. The room seemed to agree and an offer of help developing new population models was offered by the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Chris Mobley. It just kind of snowballed from there and before I could wrap my head around the situation, it didn’t feel like something had been lost but rather that something unexpected had been seemingly gained. Now I know the CAA will consider this a major setback and it is for them after over a decade and a half of hard work. I also know there a lot of people who are going to be glad that commercial fishers have once more been turned back from the sea. I didn’t get that vibe in the room however. It was just a lot a people working together to protect and manage the red abalone of San Miguel Island. No major animosity. No inflammatory rhetoric. Just honest conviction and commitment.
As a diver, I’ve always believed we should have a commitment that translates into a duty and responsibility to help take care of an ocean that gives us so much. Yesterday in La Jolla, I witnessed a divergent group of people who demonstrated just that attitude and it made me think that maybe there is hope.