The Beacon: Ashley Blacow's blog
Yesterday afternoon the California Fish & Game Commission voted unanimously to support legislation to designate the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as the state’s official marine reptile.
The Commission often does not take a position on legislation, making yesterday’s decision an even stronger statement as to the importance of California waters to leatherback sea turtles.
Support from the Commission is expected to help push the legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) through the Senate and eventually to the Governor’s desk, where Jerry Brown has until September 30th to sign new bills into law.
The largest of six species of sea turtles in US waters, the leatherback makes an impressive migration from its nesting beaches in Papua, Indonesia to California waters to feed on jellyfish. Its 12,000 mile, round-trip journey is the longest of any marine reptile.
Pacific leatherbacks are listed on the Endangered Species List with as few as 2,100 adult female leatherback sea turtles remaining in the Pacific Ocean population. In January, 16,910 square miles off California’s coast were designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as critical habitat for the leatherback.
AB 1776 will be heard next in the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization. Stay tuned!
Editor's Note: This commentary originally appeared in the Monterey Herald.
No town knows better what happens in a fishery crash than Monterey. Our infamous Cannery Row, once the heart of a bustling sardine industry, is now occupied by restaurants and tourist shops. Sadly, we are on a path to yet another Pacific sardine crash.
In a report published in February, National Marine Fisheries Service scientists warn the sardine population off the West Coast is steeply declining and fishery managers are making the same mistakes all over again. Yet, a separate report, "Little Fish Big Impact," by 13 pre-eminent scientists from around the world, concludes that current management of forage fish — like sardines, anchovy, and squid — is too aggressive and that catches should be cut in half.
A third study, aptly referred to as "A Third for the Birds" finds that seabirds are drastically affected when forage fish decline below one-third of their maximum numbers, which is the current situation for Pacific sardines. Hopefully these findings will be the catalyst needed to finally change the way forage species are managed.
With the help of sustainable seafood guides such as Seafood Watch, we can make informed decisions about what type of seafood to buy based on mercury levels, the type of fishing gear used, and the health of the fishery.
But those guides are undermined if the fish itself is mislabeled. Oceana recently uncovered through DNA testing that in Los Angeles County, 55% of commonly swapped seafood was indeed labeled incorrectly.
This means that we may only be getting the fish we ordered half the time. Seafood fraud is unfair to consumers who may be faced with health risks from consuming seafood with higher contaminant levels, or who are paying more for a less desirable substitute. We should be empowered to consume seafood we think is best for our health and we have the right to be served the seafood we are paying for.
The frustrating part is that there is little oversight on the long journey seafood takes from the ocean to our plate -- from transport to processing, to labeling, to shipping, and finally to grocery stores or restaurants. This extensive journey with little oversight and labeling leaves plenty of room for key information to be lost and for fraud to occur.
So what can be done about seafood fraud?
California is taking a step forward to begin tackling this problem at the state level through new legislation. Senator Ted Lieu introduced Senate Bill 1486, sponsored by Oceana, to require labeling of seafood at large chain restaurants (with 19 or more facilities).
If the bill passes and is signed into law by Governor Brown, chain restaurants will be required to provide information on seafood items ordered including what the species of seafood is; in what country it was caught; and whether it is farmed or wild-caught. So rather than just seeing “Fish sandwich” on the menu, customers will have the information needed to make informed decisions based on health, sustainability, and buying local.
The Senate Health Committee passed the bill at the end of the day yesterday. A huge thanks to the more than 5,000 Oceana Wavemakers in California who weighed in support of this bill with their legislators!
Despite trying to make the best eco-conscious decision, we are being swindled and deceived. Not only is it unjust to consumers, but to the environment and to those fishermen using more responsible practices.
We’ll keep you posted as this legislation progresses, and thanks again for your support.
Some fun news today: The Pacific leatherback sea turtle may soon join the California poppy, coast redwood, and grizzly bear as one of California’s official symbols.
Assemblymember Paul Fong introduced legislation (Assembly Bill 1776) that would designate the Pacific leatherback as the state’s marine reptile.
This bill is a fun way for Californians to learn about and appreciate the leatherback, while enshrining the ecological importance of this ancient species into state law. Among other things, the bill will establish October 15as the state’s annual Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day. It also encourages California public schools to include leatherback sea turtles into curriculum when possible and asks the state to support efforts to recover and preserve the leatherback.
The bill must receive enough votes in the Assembly and Senate before it can go to Governor Brown for him to consider signing it into law; the first vote will be in the Assembly this April.
If all goes well we will be celebrating the first Leatherback Day this October! Stay tuned.
As of today, the ocean’s largest sea turtle now has 41,914 square miles of Pacific Ocean it can call its own.
Oceana has been working for five years to protect habitat critical to the survival and recovery of the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle, and it paid off. Thanks to a decision by the National Marine Fisheries Service, these magnificent reptiles will now be safeguarded off the U.S. West Coast.
Leatherback sea turtles migrate from Papua, Indonesia to the U.S. West Coast every summer and fall to feed on jellyfish — a 12,000-mile round-trip journey that is the longest known migration of any living marine reptile.
Sadly, these navigators encounter a gauntlet of threats as they make their journey across the Pacific such as poaching; ingestion of plastic bags which they mistake for their favorite food, jellyfish; and entanglement and drowning in longline and gillnet fishing gear.
Due to these threats Pacific leatherbacks have declined more than 95 percent since the 1980s and as few as 2,300 adult female western Pacific leatherbacks remain. There have already been localized extinctions of leatherback sea turtles in India and the Sri Lanka and Malaysian populations have nearly disappeared.
Leatherbacks from Papua, Indonesia and those that feed off the U.S. West Coast, are one of the turtle’s last strongholds in the Pacific Ocean. It is heartbreaking to think that a species that has been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years could indeed be wiped out by human actions.
If you are one of the 3,600 ocean-loving Californians who spoke up for squid, we want to thank you!
You urged the state’s wildlife managers to maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem by not re-opening the market squid fishery after it was closed early when the maximum catch had been fished (118,000 tons or 236 million pounds).
I’m happy to report that the Fish and Game Commission listened, saying it will keep the fishery closed until next season, which opens in April. They also welcomed your request for better management of these critical fish species by adopting a policy that will guide how they manage these small fish and invertebrates into the future.
Forage species like squid, herring, and krill are the base of the ocean food pyramid, feeding everything from the charismatic humpback whale to the commercially important salmon fishery.
There is currently no state policy guiding management of forage species -- this would be the first of its kind.
This is a very exciting step forward and will ensure that fisheries managers start asking the right questions when determining how many forage fish to take out of the ocean. For example: How much squid do Risso’s dolphins need to be healthy? How much krill does the endangered blue whale eat? What’s the current population of dogfish sharks and how much herring do they need?
Also, let’s not forget that forage species are not only critical to a healthy ocean ecosystem, but to California’s economy as they bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually through coastal sectors like recreational and commercial fishing, tourism, and hospitality industries.
Without enough forage species recreational fishers will have to go elsewhere to find their sport fish, restaurants will have a more difficult time getting enough sustainably fresh and wild seafood for their menus, and whale-watching boats will have less diverse wildlife to show people who come all the way to California’s beautiful coast to see whales, seals, dolphins, and seabirds.
Stay tuned as we move toward better fishery management, and thank you again for weighing in!
Ashley Blacow is Oceana's Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their last day in Washington, the team saw an orca, spiny dogfish, techno-colored crabs and more.
Washington Leg, Final Day
As we prepped the ROV for its first dive, an orca slowly made its way around the island, easily identified by its magnificent tall, black dorsal fin. It was dinner time as we arrived at Kellett Bluff in Puget Sound. A harbor seal moved effortlessly across the surface of the water carrying its dinner, a large salmon. As we readied for the dive, more rhinoceros auklets feasted on sandlance.
Once the ROV was deployed we soon saw several spiny dogfish swimming back and forth in front of the camera’s path. This grey shark is important because it serves as both predator and prey, and this abundant little shark can have large effects on its ocean ecosystem. It’s also important to note that spiny dogfish reproduce in a way that makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The age at which they reproduce has been estimated to be from 10 to 20 and even 30 years.
In Andrew’s Bay the crabs stole the show. A crab that can only be described as techno-colored perched on a rock. It was miraculously camouflaged despite its bright orange and red colors. Another intriguing crab was wearing a hydroid coral as a headpiece. It proudly wore this fanned coral with a height equal to the length of the crab’s body.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their first day in Washington, the team saw a minke whale, harbor seals and more in the San Juan Islands.
Washington Leg, Day 1
Just before 5 a.m., captain Todd Shuster started the two quiet engines of the eco catamaran, Gato Verde. Shortly thereafter we were riding the waves out of Port Angeles Harbor.
Due to gale force wind advisories in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were forced to re-route our diving to the San Juan Islands. For years, we have been interested in the abundant forage and orca whale populations, steep drop-offs and strong currents in this area. As we approached the islands we were exuberant, curious, and hopeful of what we would find today.
Living among the sand and rocks of Hein Bay, a bed of scallops and sea urchins were kept company by corals and a diversity of fish species. A brief appearance by a minke whale off the bank was a highlight of this dive.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: humpback whales and orcas!
California Leg, Day 3
Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.
At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore.
We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.
The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling.
As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.
California Leg, Day 2
This morning after we passed the barking sea lions on the breakwater at the end of the harbor, we traversed through fog so thick there were no signs of land anywhere to be seen. We pushed trough swells upwards of 6 feet to get to our fist dive site of the day. A mola mola (aka ocean sunfish) we passed along the way didn’t seem to mind the intense swells as it basked on the ocean surface.
After motoring out 20 miles across Monterey Bay (north of the Monterey Canyon), we deployed the ROV at the former California halibut trawl grounds. As a direct result of the work of Oceana, this area has been closed to bottom trawling since 2006.
The seafloor here is primarily soft sediment and ranges in depth from 50-250 feet. The areas were teeming with signs of life, including burrows, tracks, and holes. Some places had a lot of juvenile fish and crabs suggesting these areas may be a nursery ground for fishery species. Overall, we were surprised by the diversity of habitat formations and creatures.
- Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless Discusses His New Book, The Perfect Protein Posted Wed, May 22, 2013
- Happy World Turtle Day! Posted Thu, May 23, 2013
- Washington Passes Legislation to Fight Seafood Fraud Posted Fri, May 24, 2013
- Disabled Killer Whale Survives with Help from Its Pod Posted Tue, May 21, 2013