Tag Archives: fisheries

Warm ocean ‘blob’ facilitated vast toxic algae bloom

A new study finds that unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures helped cause a massive bloom of toxic algae that closed lucrative fisheries from California to British Columbia and disrupted marine life from seabirds to sea lions.

Scientists linked the large patch of warm ocean water, nicknamed the “blob,” to the vast ribbon of toxic algae that flourished in 2015 and produced record-breaking levels of a neurotoxin that is harmful to people, fish and marine life.

The outbreak of the toxin domoic acid, the largest ever recorded on the West Coast, closed razor clam seasons in Washington and Oregon and delayed lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries along the coast. High levels were also detected in many stranded marine mammals.

“We’re not surprised now having looked at the data, but our study is the first to demonstrate that linkage,” said Ryan McCabe, lead author and a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “It’s the first question that everyone was asking.”

McCabe and his co-authors explain how the toxic algae bloom thrived in their study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Seasonal algae blooms are common each year along the West Coast, but most are not toxic. The scientists found that the algae bloom was dominated by a single species called “Pseudo-nitzschia australis” that is highly toxic.

The algae survived and took advantage of warm, nutrient-poor conditions set up by the patch of water that was warmer at the surface than normal.

Coastal upwelling last spring — a seasonal event that brings nutrient-rich, cooler waters up from the deep ocean — provided nutrients for the algae to bloom into a large population fairly quickly at sea. Finally, a series of late spring storms delivered the bloom to the coast.

“While temperature isn’t everything, it’s serving as a decent proxy,” said McCabe. “We think there’s a linkage between toxic events along our coast and climate variability indices.”

The blob was a one-time event that was not due to global warming, “but we are looking at this event as a potential window into the future as what conditions could look like,” McCabe said.

Kathi Lefebvre, a co-author and marine biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said the bloom resulted in the highest levels of domoic acid contamination in the food web ever recorded for many species.

Domoic acid accumulates in anchovies, sardines and other small fish as well as shellfish that eat the algae.

Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning, which can cause permanent loss of short-term memory in severe cases.

Sea lions in California commonly experienced seizures, a common sign of domoic acid poisoning, during harmful algae blooms along that state’s coast. But 2015 was the first year that such harmful effects were documented as far north as Washington state, scientists said.

“This is an eye-opener for what the future may hold as ocean conditions continue to warm globally,” Lefebvre said.

Feds agree to seafood import rules aimed at protecting whales, dolphins

The U.S. government, in a recent settlement, agreed to adopt rules ensuring seafood imported into the country meets high standards for protecting whales and dolphins

The regulations will require foreign fisheries to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of U.S. fishers or be denied import privileges — implementing a 40-year-old provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The new regulations will force other countries to step up and meet U.S. conservation standards — saving hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney and international program director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’ ”

More than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear each year, according to the CBD. The animals are “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown outright or are tossed overboard to die.

Despite U.S. efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, fishing gear continues to pose the most significant threat to whale and dolphin conservation worldwide.

For example, the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, is being driven to extinction by shrimp gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Fewer than 100 vaquita remain.

Under U.S. law and the planned new regulations, shrimp from this region would be barred from entering the United States because it does not meet the more protective U.S. marine mammal protection standards. These standards may include modifying fishing gear and closing fishing in some areas to limit the risk of entanglement.

“It’s time to do what it takes to save thousands of whales and dolphins around the world and hold our fish imports to the same standards that we require of our U.S. fishermen,” said Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This law will help do that. It provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the U.S. market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate.”

Since 1972, the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act has prohibited the United States from allowing seafood to enter the country unless it meets U.S. whale and dolphin standards. Under today’s settlement, the federal government must make a final decision by August 2016 about how to implement this requirement and end unlawful imports. The rules will protect marine mammals and level the playing field for U.S. fishers.

“The public demands and the U.S. can — and by law, must — wield its tremendous purchasing power to save dolphins and whales from foreign fishing nets,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We have the right to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is caught in ways that minimize the death and injury of marine mammals.”

Americans consume some 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, including tuna, swordfish, shrimp and cod. About 90 percent of that seafood is imported and about half is wild-caught.

The settlement was in the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York on behalf of plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Obama by executive action could create world’s largest ocean preserve

President Barack Obama on June 17 announced executive actions aimed at creating the world’s largest ocean preserve.

The announcement came as Secretary of State John Kerry announced a global call to protect the oceans and the State Department hosted an international conference on sustainable fisheries, marine pollution and ocean acidification.

The president, in a video message to conference participants, said, “We’ve already shown that when we work together, we can protect our oceans for future generations. So let’s redouble our efforts. Let’s make sure that years from now we can look our children in the eye and tell them that, yes, we did our part, we took action, and we led the way toward a safer, more stable world.”

The executive actions, which do not require congressional approval, include:

• Deciding how to expand protections near the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the south-central Pacific Ocean, an area that contains pristine tropical marine environments. The tropical coral reefs and associated marine ecosystems are among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

• Directing federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at deterring illegal fishing, addressing seafood fraud and preventing illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace by increasing traceability and transparency. Black market fishing constitutes up to 20 percent of the wild marine fish caught each year around the world, and drains up to $23 billion from legitimate fishing enterprises.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Expanding these protections will provide a safe haven for coral gardens, seamounts, and the rich waters that support hundreds of species of fish, sea turtles, giant clams, dolphins, whales and sharks, conserving them for future generations. This represents a commitment to the kind of bold action needed to restore the failing health of our ocean, on which we all depend and continues the bipartisan tradition of ocean protection.”