Sunday, September 30, 2012

Unknown coral hotspots discovered off US East Coast

From MSNBC:  Unknown coral hotspots discovered off US East Coast

A survey of underwater canyons off the U.S. East Coast found a number of previously unknown hotspots for deep-sea corals. 

The exploration, the first to look for corals and sponges in the area in decades, is helping researchers develop a computer model to determine where other coral hotspots might be found.

The survey took place over a two-week stretch in July. Researchers aboard the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Henry B. Bigelow ship looked for corals in submarine canyons off New Jersey, and connected to Georges Bank, a large elevated area of seafloor about 60 miles (100 kilometers) offshore that stretches as far south as Cape Cod, Mass., and north to Nova Scotia.
Nizinski et al, NOAA / NMFS / NEFSC / WHOI
Deep-sea corals (possibly Paramuricea) in Gilbert Canyon, off New Jersey, at about 5,535 feet (1687 meters) deep. 
"The deep-sea coral and sponge habitats observed in the canyons are not like those found in shallow-water tropical reefs or deep-sea coral habitats in other regions," said Martha Nizinski, chief scientist of the research cruise, in a statement.  "We know very little about the distribution and ecology of corals in the canyons off the Northeast coast. Although our explorations have just begun, we've already increased our knowledge about these deepwater coral habitats a hundred times over."

The researchers took thousands of photographs of the coral using a remotely operated camera towed behind the ship. The corals observed live at depths between 650 and 6,500 feet (200 to 2,000 meters). Although no specimens were collected during this expedition, the thousands of images taken will be analyzed in the coming months to determine what types of coral live there.

More than 70 deepwater canyons, ranging in depth from 330 to 11,500 feet (100 to 3,500 m), exist along the Northeast's continental shelf and slope. Few are well studied, and many are likely home to as yet undiscovered life-forms. 



Friday, September 28, 2012

Alaska and the mysterious disappearing king salmon

From BBC Magazine:  Alaska and the mysterious disappearing king salmon

When the number of king salmon running in Crooked Creek's river declined dramatically, the mostly native Alaskan villagers were left wondering where they could find enough food to last the winter.
Crooked Creek has no big-box grocery stores or roads to other towns. But in good times, the Kuskokwim River promises king salmon to the villages along its 702 miles (1,130km).
But good times are fading into memory for villagers like Evelyn Thomas, who has lived in Crooked Creek her entire life.
"In my language, fish is called 'the food'," says Thomas, a half Yupik, half Athabascan native Alaskan who says she has little money to buy food to replace the salmon.
"When we don't get 'the food', a staple of our diet is missing."
Over the past five years, Alaska's king salmon have begun to disappear from the state's rivers, and no-one is sure why.
This summer's king salmon season yielded one of the lowest catches on record. The drop has devastated commerce and tourism, but the most dramatic effect has been on subsistence villages where fishermen eat what they catch.
In an emergency effort to ensure the future survival of the king salmon, state officials have severely limited the catch this year, even going so far as to close some rivers entirely to fishermen.
Fishermen accused of breaking the limit have been prosecuted, their catch confiscated.
"Many people don't know how they're going to feed their families throughout the winter," says Thomas. "There is no economy here, there is no money."
Crooked Creek is part of one of the poorest regions in the US, the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta in Alaska's south-west.
The delta's rural villages suffer from chronic unemployment and some of the highest poverty rates in the country - up to 31%, compared to 15% nationwide.
A king salmon King salmon is also known as chinook salmon
The cost of living there is exorbitant, because the area has few roads. Petrol and other supplies must be imported by barge or plane.
But one king salmon can feed an entire family for a week.
The fish ranges from a glittering silver in colour to a bold red, but its most distinctive trait is its size. Fishermen in villages like Crooked Creek wade in the Kuskokwim River to catch king salmon in their nets.
They hang their catch on racks to dry and preserve it for the winter. Families can the salmon and make smoked boiled salmon during the winter. Or they freeze the salmon and fry or bake it.
The salmon's rich flavour and oil nourish families through the long, dark winter.
But this year, the delta's fishermen hauled in less than a quarter of the usual harvest of 80,000 king salmon, according to the Association of Village Council Presidents.
"Many people in the villages will have to choose between food and fuel this winter," says Myron Naneng Sr, president of the association.
The reason for the drop remains unclear, says Pat Shields, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"There's a concern about kings in Alaska right now - very few rivers have achieved king spawning escapement goals," he says.
"We're in the third, fourth, fifth year of this now - what's happening? We have made our spawning goals in systems and we're not getting the adults back."
Since most of Alaska's prime salmon rivers have suffered large declines, scientists are searching further downstream, in the ocean for clues. Researchers have no sense of when - if ever - the salmon will recover.
Alaska's economic vitality is tied to the health of its king salmon, and anxiety over the fish's fate is felt particularly strongly on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Kenai River's turquoise waters thread past the small fishing towns of Soldotna and Kenai, which are normally packed with tourists during the summer months.
So in July, when authorities closed the Kenai River to sport king-fishing for the first time in the state's history, the economic impact was devastating.
"In the last three or four years, Alaska's tourism industry has felt the economic downturn just like any other region in the country and world," says Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
"Many businesses here have gone through their savings, and it's getting to the point where an event like this is the last straw that breaks the camel's back."
Even commercial fisherman hunting other species have been sidelined this summer.
The state restricted commercial fishing of sockeye salmon, a different species, in the Cook Inlet in order to minimise the number of king salmon netted inadvertently.
"You got one of the longest in-place sustained fisheries in the state [that's] being threatened," says Gene Palm, a commercial fisherman.
"Our future is tenuous to say the least."
The restrictions have escalated long-held tensions among the many groups reliant on king salmon.
Native Alaskan subsistence communities feel they have unfairly borne the burden, compared to the large commercial fisheries.
"We're not allowed to practise the human right to feed our families," says Thomas. "Close all commercial fishing [and] people will holler and scream. But we don't make any money on anything - we use it to eat. And we've been hit the hardest."
Officials estimate the loss to the state from this summer's weak catch could exceed $10m (£6m), and the US government hopes to offer financial assistance to subsistence villagers and commercial fishermen alike.
But with fresh snow already falling on the mountains ringing Crooked Creek, Thomas isn't waiting on government assistance: she has applied for a moose-hunting permit and is gathering berries.
"My parents, when I was small, used to tell me, 'It's easier to lose a little sleep now in the summer months when the food is here, than it is to feel the pinch of hunger in April and May,'" Thomas says.
"Looking back on it, they were absolutely right. This year is going to be pretty tough."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2 men found with 332 illegal lobsters Read more here:

From the Miami Herald:  2 men found with 332 illegal lobsters

Homestead resident Ernesto Rua and Marathon resident Raudel Rubio got carried away on an early-morning lobster hunt last weekend — exceeding their legal limit of 12 total tails (six per person) by 320, authorities say.
Turns out that 304 of the spiny lobster tails were also under the legal size limit, which according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is the three-inch carapace when measured in the water.
The two men were arrested Sunday after bringing the lobster ashore near mile marker 54 and being searched by Monroe County Sheriff's Office Deputy Wilfredo Guerra.
They were each charged with possession of 332 wrung lobster tails (tails can't be wrung on the water) and possession of 304 undersized lobster tails.
According to Guerra's report, he saw Rua, 41, and Rubio, 26, coming ashore near the former Quay restaurant property around 4:10 a.m. Sunday. Their vessel had no lights on.
The report says once docked, Guerra saw Rua and Rubio carrying a gray plastic container toward a black SUV in the parking lot. Guerra approached the two men and asked to inspect the container.
The report says both men admitted to possessing all the tails; they were arrested. Rua and Rubio were jailed on $150,000 bond.
The lobster tails were turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to be kept in the agency's evidence facility.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Donsol has most whale sharks in PH

From ABC-CNBC News:  Donsol has most whale sharks in PH

MANILA, Philippines -- If you want to spot a whale shark, more commonly known as butanding among Filipinos, Donsol in Sorsogon is still the best place to visit.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Donsol hosts the most whale sharks in the Philippines with at least 377 identified by the group -- more than any other area in the country.
In a statement released on Wednesday, WWF-Philippines said it has identified 458 individual whale sharks in the country since 2007, with 377 of them found in Donsol.
Cebu was a far second with 54 butandings identified, 14 in Leyte and the rest in Bohol, Palawan, Albay and Batangas.
With the support of WWF-Denmark, WWF-Philippines teamed up with Australia-based ECOCEAN, the Hubbs Sea World Research Institute and Banco de Oro Unibank to catalogue the country’s whale sharks. The partnership provides researchers with both population pegs and migratory data to guide conservation efforts not just for whale sharks – but for all migratory pelagic species.
Sporting waterproof digital cameras, trained WWF skin divers snap photos of a spot right above each shark’s pectoral fins, behind its gill slits. The photos are fed into a computer which uses a program to triangulate each shark’s unique spot configuration. The data is then uploaded to the web-based ECOCEAN library.
Unless it is a new individual, the library shows researchers when and where the shark was last encountered. Since 2003, ECOCEAN has catalogued 3,822 individual sharks from places as far as Mexico, Mozambique and the Galapagos Islands.
“Photo-identification is a non-invasive approach for identifying sharks,” said Dave David, a whale shark researcher at WWF-Philippines. “The library uses the whale shark’s distinct patterns, plus information on scars, sex and size to identify individuals.”
To complement the photo-identification drive, 29 whale sharks were also affixed with detachable GPS satellite tags designed to pop to the surface after several months of data collation. Four sharks were tagged in May 2007, 10 more in May 2009 and 15 in April 2010, according to the WWF.
"The results suggest that most tagged whale sharks keep to 200 kilometers of Donsol. Three however, swam east to the Philippine Sea, with one more swimming as far north as Taiwan. All spent most of their time below 50 meters, rarely rising to the surface to feed," the group said in the statement.
David said the results suggest that whale sharks are "highly mobile, transient foragers which recognize no country or territorial boundary as their own."
"The distribution of whale sharks and other large filter-feeders also indicate the presence of plankton and the overall health of our oceans,” he added.
For years, Donsol has been identified as a whale shark hotspot, hosting one of the largest aggregations of whale sharks on Earth.
Other large aggregations include Ningaloo Reef in Australia with 808, Mexico with 812 and Mozambique with 624.
Through continued research, David and other WWF volunteers hope to generate an accurate peg of the country’s migratory and resident whale shark population.
“Long days at sea are worth it, considering the immense scientific, ecological and economic value that whale sharks bring people,” David said.
“Even after years of research, there’s still so much we have to discover – where they feed, mate and give birth. Our work continues, which is just as well because diving with these gentle giants is pure magic.”


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Researchers Confirm Overgrown Algae Causing Coral Reef Declines

From Underwater Times: Researchers Confirm Overgrown Algae Causing Coral Reef Declines

CORVALLIS, Oregon -- Researchers at Oregon State University for the first time have confirmed some of the mechanisms by which overfishing and nitrate pollution can help destroy coral reefs – it appears they allow an overgrowth of algae that can bring with it unwanted pathogens, choke off oxygen and disrupt helpful bacteria.
These "macroalgae," or large algal species, are big enough to essentially smother corals. They can get out of control when sewage increases nitrate levels, feeds the algae, and some of the large fish that are most effective at reducing the algal buildup are removed by fishing.

Scientists found that macroalgal competition decreased coral growth rates by about 37 percent and had other detrimental effects. Other research has documented some persistent states of hypoxia.
Researchers call this process "the slippery slope to slime."
Findings on the research were just published in PLoS One, a professional journal. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.
"There is evidence that coral reefs around the world are becoming more and more dominated by algae," said Rebecca Vega-Thurber, an OSU assistant professor of microbiology. "Some reefs are literally covered up in green slime, and we wanted to determine more precisely how this can affect coral health."
The new study found that higher levels of algae cause both a decrease in coral growth rate and an altered bacterial community. The algae can introduce some detrimental pathogens to the coral and at the same time reduce levels of helpful bacteria. The useful bacteria are needed to feed the corals in a symbiotic relationship, and also produce antibiotics that can help protect the corals from other pathogens.
One algae in particular, Sargassum, was found to vector, or introduce a microbe to corals, a direct mechanism that might allow introduction of foreign pathogens.
There are thousands of species of algae, and coral reefs have evolved with them in a relationship that often benefits the entire tropical marine ecosystem. When in balance, some algae grow on the reefs, providing food to both small and large fish that nibble at the algal growth. But the algal growth is normally limited by the availability of certain nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, and some large fish such as parrot fish help eat substantial amounts of algae and keep it under control.
All of those processes can be disrupted when algal growth is significantly increased by the nutrients and pollution from coastal waste water, and overfishing reduces algae consumption at the same time.
"This shows that some human actions, such as terrestrial pollution or overfishing, can affect everything in marine ecosystems right down to the microbes found on corals," Vega-Thurber said. "We've suspected before that increased algal growth can bring new diseases to corals, and now for the first time have demonstrated in experiments these shifts in microbial communities."
Some mitigation of the problem is already being done on high-value coral reefs by mechanically removing algae, Vega-Thurber said, but the best long-term solution is to reduce pollution and overfishing so that a natural balance can restore itself.
Corals are one of Earth's oldest animal life forms, evolving around 500 million years ago. They host thousands of species of fish and other animals, are a major component of marine biodiversity in the tropics, and are now in decline around the world. Reefs in the Caribbean Sea have declined more than 80 percent in recent decades.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's all there in black and white: Sharks are indeed color blind

From NBC News:  It's all there in black and white: Sharks are indeed color blind

Sharks are color blind, new research suggests, with the toothy predators likely forever seeing the world in black and white.
The study, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, is the first to investigate the genetic basis and spectral tuning of the shark visual system.
The ramifications could be huge, helping to save both sharks and people.
"The work will have a major influence on human interactions with sharks," co-author Nathan Hart, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia's School of Animal Biology and The Oceans Institute, told Discovery News.
"Firstly, this knowledge may enable us to design fishing gear that is more specific for target fish species and thus reduces unnecessary bycatch of sharks," Hart continued. "Secondly, it may help us to design equipment that is less attractive to sharks (wetsuits and surfboards, for example) that may help to reduce attacks on humans."
Building on a study from last year, Hart and his colleagues isolated and sequenced genes encoding shark photopigments involved in vision. Photopigments are light-sensitive molecules. Through a biochemical process, they signal this detection of light to the rest of the visual system.
Photopigments are found in two places: rods and cones. The former type is more sensitive and is generally used under very dim light. The latter type is smaller and less sensitive, but is faster responding, applying more to brighter-light conditions.
The researchers determined that the studied sharks, in this case two wobbegong species, are cone monochromats. This means that the sharks only had one type of cone and one type of rod gene, supporting that they are color-blind. The findings strengthen earlier speculation about not only wobbegongs, but other shark species.
Sharks belong to a cartilaginous fish group that also includes skates and rays. Prior research indicates that skates have "no color vision at all," Hart noted. "Rays have more than one photopigment and so they have the retinal 'machinery' for color vision," he added. "Recent behavioral tests in my lab have also demonstrated that they have functional color vision." 
Sharks are probably not the only large water dwellers that are color-blind. Other research indicates that marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins and seals, cannot detect colors either.
"It may be that color is not useful to them, or that they have lost the pigments for another reason," said Hart.
"It is likely that the ancestors of modern sharks could see in color," he added, so sharks and all of these animals may have once seen in color.
Genetic studies even suggest that the ancestors of humans and other terrestrial mammals lost some color sensitivity over the course of their evolution.
Sharks and marine mammals are far from being the most visually challenged aquatic animals.
Recently, scientists studied two groups of blind cave fishes that are eyeless. Prosanta Chakrabarty, an assistant professor and curator of fishes at Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science, and colleagues found that such fishes from Madagascar and Australia are related. Life in a dark cave doesn't require color detection or even vision, so the fishes have survived by using their other senses.
Color must also not be critical to shark survival.
"Color as we think of it may be unimportant to sharks, and they are only interested in achromatic contrast differences, just as if we were watching something on a black and white TV set," Hart said.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Posts resume Monday Sep 24 2012

I have to take my mom up to visit her elder sister in Box Elder which is near Rapid City. They have no internet up there.

Posts resume 24 Sep 2012.

Thanks for your patience!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

NH fishermen say new rule sounds death knell for industry

From  Union Leader:  NH fishermen say new rule sounds death knell for industry

PORTSMOUTH —The new regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, John Bullard, heard more than two hours of comment from local fishermen Wednesday about federal regulations that threaten to eliminate the local industry.

The most recent crisis to challenge ground fishermen in New Hampshire is a closure planned for October and November as a result of a report that showed fishermen were not in compliance with regulations to deter harbor porpoises.

But fishermen have argued that the data is flawed, and instead of fighting the closure entirely, have asked for it to be moved to February and March, when more harbor porpoises have historically been taken and the economic impact would not be as severe.

Josh Weirsma is the Sector 11 and 12 manager, which covers all of New Hampshire’s commercial ground fishermen.

He has estimated that the direct impact to fishermen from the closure is about $1 million, with an additional impact of $2.5 million on related industries, including businesses like Yankee Co-Op in Seabrook. He said the months of October and November are when 50 percent of the state’s 20 gillnet fishermen make most of their profit. The rest of the year, they are fishing to keep up on costs.

Weirsma said the fleet was deemed 40 percent “pinger” compliant, but there were severe issues with how NFMS arrived at that number.

He developed what he believes is a more accurate analysis and submitted it to NMFS, but despite three requests, he has yet to receive a response.

“What is the objective of the agency? Is it to protect harbor porpoises or is it to maximize the punishment for the industry,” Weirsma said. He said if the objective is to protect harbor porpoises, then based on the agency’s own admission, it would not matter if the fishery was closed in February and March or now, but the economic consequence to fishermen for closing now is much higher.

New fisheries chief

Bullard has only been on the job for five weeks, but Weirsma said he already passed up an opportunity to build social capital with fishermen by declining to adjust the penalty.

Bullard has made it a goal to try and rebuild a trust with fishermen that has been badly damaged by the current administration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He was at the Urban Forestry Center on Wednesday evening to hold one of what he expects to be many listening sessions with fishermen throughout the regional industry.

Bullard previously worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees NMFS, in the mid-90s, and part of his job at the time was to deal with what was then a crisis in ground fish.

“What I am learning in my first five weeks on the job is that this situation seems a lot worse than it was in the 90s,” Bullard said. “And I don’t think there are any easy decisions in front of us. Harbor porpoises or any other decisions.”

He said every decision they make at NMFS, they are going to try and keep in mind that people are hanging on by their fingertips.

‘You are killing us’

One of those people is Rye fisherman Jay Driscoll, who brought evidence to show the challenges fishermen are facing.

He handed Bullard three pingers used to deter harbor porpoises from fishing nets, and asked him to try and figure out which one was not working, which Bullard was unable to do.

Driscoll said there are guns used in the industry to “ping” at the devices and make sure they are operating correctly, a resource that could be provided by NMFS to help fishermen be compliant.

“There is no reason why observers or anyone else cannot come down before (October) 1st and make sure every one of those things is working … with your help we can get harbor porpoise (by-catch) down to zero level,” Driscoll said. “We don’t have the tools to fix this; you guys do.”

He said the consequence of the closure for him is not being able to pay his mortgage or keep a roof over his children’s heads.

“I’d rather you throw me in jail than put this consequence on me right now,” Driscoll said. “You are killing us.”

Cod catch cuts

Weirsma said the major issue is the compounding effect of the closure coupled with proposed cuts in Gulf of Maine cod catch allotments for the next year of 75 percent, and additional large cuts proposed in other major stocks.

“We can’t even really look forward to next year because this is kind of our major crisis right now,” Weirsma said.

Commercial fisherman Erik Anderson argued that the harbor porpoise plan was put in place in 2007, before the whole management structure of the fishing industry changed, a structure he says is now equipped to handle the responsibility of making sure all boats are compliant.

He said the New England Fisheries Management Council made a unanimous decision to have this issue remedied, and 12 members of the regional congressional delegation, including all four members of the New Hampshire delegation, signed a joint letter to Congress asking them to reconsider the consequence closure.

“There is a fishing community here and there’s not many left of us and the consequence of this closure for this gear type, for the gillnet fishermen, it is the death knell,” Anderson said.

He said closing the fishery is also going to do nothing to reduce the mortality rate of fish, as other gear types, including mobile gear fishermen, will move into the territory.

Weirsma said he and others in the fishery are meeting again with Bullard next week, which may be there last opportunity to convince him to reconsider the closure.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Warm temperatures bring bizarre tropical fish to Bay of Fundy

From CTY News:  Warm temperatures bring bizarre tropical fish to Bay of Fundy

Unusually warm temperatures in the Bay of Fundy are attracting exotic species that rarely venture so far north -- including a several-hundred pound flat fish that is often mistaken for a shark and can grow to be thousands of pounds.
The mola mola, or ocean sunfish, was spotted and recorded earlier this week by a tour operator who runs whale watching trips out of St. Andrews, N.B.
The fish often swims near the surface of the water, and has a large, triangular fin that resembles a shark’s. In fact, that’s what Nick Hawkins thought he was seeing at first. It wasn’t until he got closer and began recording the creature, that he realized it was something different.
“We saw a fin come up and when we approached it was a mola mola, which is a really bizarre looking fish,” he told CTV Atlantic. “This certain one was actually a small mola mola because they can get very large. I’d put this one at about three or four hundred pounds.”
Considered the largest bony fish in the world, the mola mola is typically found in warmer waters, but with temperatures in the Bay of Fundy becoming more temperate in recent months, unusual species have begun to appear, said James Upham, a public programming interpreter at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
He said the mola mola is a fascinating fish to see in the wild because of its flat shape, unique swimming style and its tendency to stay close to the surface.
“They get the name (mola mola, or sunfish) from hanging around on the surface of the water during the day, they sort of bask and you can see them pretty easily,” Upham said.
Hawkins said he was excited for the rare opportunity to see the fish, and quickly tried to capture the moment.
“The mola mola happened to be close to the boat which is hard to do, often you’ll catch a glimpse of them and then they’re gone but it stayed up for us and we got the pole into the water and got some really good footage of it,” he said.
According to National Geographic, ocean sunfish live in tropical and termperate waters, and can reach up to 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally. The largest specimens have weighed up to 5,000 pounds.
They feed on jellyfish, small fish and plankton and algae.
“They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers,” said an article on
“Their population is considered stable, though they frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.”


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Northeast, two other U.S. fishing areas declared disasters

From  Northeast, two other U.S. fishing areas declared disasters

BOSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department on Thursday declared a national fishery disaster for the northeast United States as a result of severely low stocks of key groundfish species such as cod and flounder.
The declaration, which came after a two-year campaign by members of the region's congressional delegation, clears the way for disaster aid to be allocated to coastal communities.
Fishery disasters were also declared in Alaska, because of low returns of Chinook salmon in some key regions, and Mississippi, where flooding in the spring of 2011 damaged some of the state's oyster and blue crab fisheries.
In a statement, acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank said she was "deeply concerned" about the potential impact to the northeast fishing industry of lower catch limits.
"Fishermen in the Northeast are facing financial hardships because of the unexpectedly slow rebuilding of fish stocks that have limited their ability to catch enough to make ends meet," Blank said.
U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Democrat, termed the declaration "a huge win" for the region's fishermen, while Republican Scott Brown said he was "relieved" at the move "after two years of delay."
"Our fishermen are the farmers of the sea and today our fishermen are facing exactly what farmers in the Midwest are facing - a drought," Kerry said. "They need our help to get through it."
Kerry and other Massachusetts lawmakers have requested $100 million in economic disaster assistance.
If funds are appropriated, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will would work with federal lawmakers and state officials to develop plans to preserve coastal communities from Maine to New York.
The crux of the problem for the fishing industry is that despite reduced catch limits in recent years, several key fish stocks in the formerly teeming waters of the Gulf of Maine and on the Georges Bank off the New England coast are not rebuilding, Blank said.
That will potentially force catch limits to be even lower for the 2013 fishing season, which starts May 1.
In late July, a preliminary report from the New England Fishery Management Council said that 2013 quotas would probably be lowered "markedly."
The council said that cod and yellowtail flounder caught in the Georges Bank, located in the Atlantic Ocean east of Massachusetts' Cape Cod and south of Nova Scotia, would probably need to be reduced by an estimated 70 and 51 percent, respectively, in 2013.
The catch limits for other species, including haddock and American plaice, were also subject to sharp cuts.
The Northeast Seafood Coalition, an industry group, welcomed Thursday's declaration but said regulations are still needed that better account for "natural cycles of complex ecosystems" rather than making fishermen what it said were scapegoats.


Friday, September 14, 2012

In unlikely turn, US conservationists lobby to save Gulf oil rigs

From Business Insider Weekend:  In unlikely turn, US conservationists lobby to save Gulf oil rigs

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA -- In an ironic twist, scientists, fishermen and conservationists are urging that hundreds of dormant oil rigs be left standing in the Gulf of Mexico, arguing that a US federal plan to remove them will endanger coral reefs and fish.

While environmentalists might more typically be expected to oppose artificial intrusions in the marine habitat, those seeking a halt to the removal want time to study the impact of rig destruction on the Gulf Coast’s economy and to catalog the species, some rare and endangered, that are clinging to the sunken metal.

“I am not supporting oil rigs. I am supporting fish habitat that just happens to on petroleum platforms,” said Bob Shipp, chairman of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama.

US Department of Interior officials say the federal “idle iron” policy, updated in 2010, makes good sense after storms during the 2005 hurricane season toppled 150 defunct oil rigs, causing considerable damage.

If defunct rigs are toppled by storms, they can break loose and hit other rigs -- potentially causing an oil spill -- be swept to land and destroy a dock or a bridge, knock into and damage natural reefs and cause problems with ship navigation.

“Cleaning up afterwards is a lot more expensive and inefficient,” said David Smith, spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Federal law has long required the removal of drilling infrastructure no longer in use, but a 2010 agency notice asked operators to detail plans for 650 dormant oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and 3,500 inactive wells.

Companies have to demonstrate the infrastructure will be put to use eventually or offer a plan to move ahead with decommissioning, the agency said.

The structures have attracted as many as 1.2 hectares of coral habitat per rig, and some 30,000 fish live off of each reef, according to Mr. Shipp.

“They developed into an oasis for reef fishes,” said Mr. Shipp, a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Mr. Shipp said the updated “idle iron” policy is driving the destruction of old rigs at the rate of three per week, prompting new concerns about the fate of the wildlife and the thousands of jobs that depend on the reef fish.

Diving, sports fishing, restaurants, charter boats and hotels all thrive on the Gulf of Mexico’s $1-billion fishing industry, according to US Representative Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.

If the rig dismantling continues, Mr. Shipp fears as much as a 50% decline in fishery production, which he worries would further devastate an area still recovering from the BP oil spill in 2010. “I have never seen rigs come down this fast in 30 years of study,” he said.

The Interior Department disputed claims that there has been a rapid rise in rig removals since 2010, though the department could not provide historical data.

As of late August, some 227 platforms were scheduled to be taken down in the Gulf of Mexico through the end of 2013, with 116 slated for disposal, 35 for reef conversion and 76 still awaiting decommissioning plans, the department said. About 3,000 platforms were in the Gulf as of July.

Still, members of the Coastal Conservation Association have described sailing out to favorite fishing holes only to find dead zones after rig removal, according to Ted Venker, the group’s conservation director.

Trade groups representing oil rig operators have not taken an active stance on the issue. The Independent Petroleum Association of America said it understands environmental concerns but the potential liabilities posed by idle rigs must also be considered.

Republican congressman Palazzo has sponsored a “Rigs to Reefs” bill in the House of Representatives that calls for a moratorium on rig destruction until studies can show the impact on fishing and the economy.

Under the legislation, 50% of the removal cost would be put back into maintenance of the structures, such as keeping foghorns and night lights working. -- Reuters


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Over 200 Million Sea Turtle Hatchlings Released by Mexico

From Hispanically Speaking: Over 200 Million Sea Turtle Hatchlings Released by Mexico

Over 200 Million Sea Turtle Hatchlings Released by Mexico
More than 200 million olive ridley sea turtle hatchlings have been released over the past six years on La Escobilla beach - in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca - as part of a government conservation program, Environment Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said.
The number of olive ridley hatchlings on La Escobilla has increased from less than 200,000 in 1973 to 1.5 million in 2012, an indication that species is making a strong recovery, the federal official said.
The La Escobilla sanctuary is considered the place with the world’s highest number of olive ridley hatchlings, and it serves as the nesting spot for 95 percent of all sea turtles of that species that nest in Mexico, Elvira Quesada said.
After conducting a tour of that area to supervise conservation work, Elvira Quesada said that under the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderon, who took office on Dec. 1, 2006, more than 200 million olive ridley hatchlings have been released, many of which will return to the same beach in three decades to deposit their eggs.
Efforts to protect female turtles and their nests and release hatchlings are carried out under the National Sea Turtle Conservation Program, Elvira Quesada said.
Ten of the nesting beaches are natural protected areas, or ANPs, that hold the category of sanctuary, three of them located inside another ANP such as a biosphere reserve, and 15 of them are included on the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance.
Mexico’s government has spent more than 143 million pesos (nearly $11 million) to support projects that combat threats to sea turtles, as well as to cover the operating costs of mobile camps, equipment and salaries, the environment secretary said.
Other funds support communities that help protect the turtles, including 47.5 million pesos and 23.7 million pesos ($3.6 million and $1.8 million), respectively, allocated through the Temporary Employment and Conservation for Sustainable Development programs.
Turtle egg extraction has been illegal in Mexico since 1927, while a total, permanent ban on the capture and sale of sea turtles and their products throughout Mexico has been in place since 1990.

Houston: Endangered sea turtle lays 6 eggs at Fla. hospital

From  Endangered sea turtle lays 6 eggs at Fla. hospital

MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — An injured endangered sea turtle has laid six eggs after being brought a turtle hospital in the Florida Keys.
Bette Zirkelbach is the administrator of the hospital. She says staff was able to harvest the eggs and they have been put in an incubator with sand from the U.S. Virgin Islands. That way if the eggs hatch, the hawksbill sea turtles will be familiar with their native sand.
Any hatchlings will be taken to the same St. Croix beach where the mother was found Aug. 24.
Officials say the turtle has deep wounds on both shoulders and might have been hooked by a fisherman and then repeatedly gaffed to remove the fishing gear.
The mother is in guarded condition.
The Turtle Hospital:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

No new shark for Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibit this year

From LA Observed:  No new shark for Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibit this year

Though four young great white sharks were tagged and released by scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in August, this year's shark season in the Santa Monica Bay closed without a viable candidate for the aquarium's exhibit, according to Ken Peterson, communications director for the aquarium.
We've concluded our 2012 white shark field season in southern California. This year, we've tagged and released four animals. None proved to be a candidate for exhibit in Monterey.
Colleagues with CSU-Long Beach and the Southern California Marine Institute - our Rapid Response Team - will still respond if a commercial fisherman accidentally nets a juvenile great white shark. Otherwise, we'll resume our field program next summer. If they haven't left already, the pen and purse seiner should depart Paradise Cove shortly.
This was the aquarium's 9th annual shark season, a project that has resulted in six 'young of the year' taking up residence in the great white exhibit. Of those six, all of whom were released, four survived and were tracked, one died when it was caught in a gill net, and one died soon after leaving the aquarium. Detailed info about those sharks is here.
The aquarium's great white shark exhibit is a huge draw, both for visitors eager to see the predators in person, and for criticism by animal activists, who say penning the sharks, even in the name of research, is inhumane. Here's the aquarium's main great white shark page, with links to its research, preservation and rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, on the left is John O'Sullivan, curator of field operations for the aquarium, and on the right is Chris Lowe, of the shark lab at CalState Long Beach, releasing a tagged juvenile great white in Santa Monica Bay on August 16.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Deforestation is killing Madagascar's coral reefs

From Deforestation is killing Madagascar's coral reefs

 Sediment carried by rivers draining deforested areas in Madagascar is smothering local coral reefs, increasing the incidence of disease and suppressing growth, report new studies published in the journals Biogeosciences and Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The first study looked specifically at coral communities in Antongil Bay, located in northeastern Madagascar, while the second included data from Western Madagascar. Antongil Bay is Madagascar's largest bay and world-famous as nursing grounds for humpback whales.

The authors analyzed coral's luminescent bands, which reveal the growth history of coral much like growth rings of a tree. They found that corals near rivers "showed clear signs of disease and distorted growth patterns", according to study co-author Jens Zinke of the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute.

"Results from the study suggest that changes in land use - primarily the removal of forests - and Madagascar's increased population density are the key drivers of long-term reef sedimentation trends," Zinke added in a statement. "This is the first direct evidence that catchment activity in Madagascar through deforestation and land use practices affects near-shore reef ecosystems."

Madagascar has suffered from widespread deforestation. Around Antongil Bay forests have been cleared for rice cultivation and cattle grazing. Remaining forests have been heavily impacted by illegal rosewood and ebony logging.

Zinke says the results underline the importance of holistic approaches to conservation.

"Just as importantly, these results reinforce the need to incorporate terrestrial land-use management in the design of coral reef protection networks in the region," he said. "There is a dire need to combine efforts on terrestrial and marine conservation in unison to sustain Madagascar's biodiversity."

C.A. Grove at al (2012). Spatial linkages between coral proxies of terrestrial runoff across a large embayment in Madagascar, Biogeosciences, 9, 3063-3081, doi:10.5194/bg-9-3063-2012.

Joseph Maina et al (2012). Linking coral river runoff proxies with climate variability, hydrology and land-use in Madagascar catchments. Marine Pollution Bulletin, Available online 31 July 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

NJ World’s Largest Underwater Sculpture, a Horseshoe Crab, to be Sunk Thursday off Jersey Shore Coast

From Tom's River Online:  World’s Largest Underwater Sculpture, a Horseshoe Crab, to be Sunk Thursday off Jersey Shore Coast

Ocean County-(PR)–Since 1984, the Bureau of Marine Fisheries has been involved in an intensive program of artificial reef construction and biological monitoring. The purpose is to create a network of artificial reefs in the ocean waters along the New Jersey coast to provide a hard substrate for fish, shellfish and crustaceans, fishing grounds for anglers, and underwater structures for scuba divers.
The DEP has announced that the deployment of a 47-foot sculpture of a horseshoe crab constructed from concrete, originally scheduled for July, has been rescheduled for Thursday, August 30, 2012, on the Axel Carlson Reef. The sculpture is being deployed under the supervision of the DEP as part of the Division’s Artificial Reef Program.
The sculpture, created by scuba instructor and marine biologist Chris Wojcik, will provide habitat for more than 150 species of marine life, a fishing ground for anglers and a unique area for scuba divers to explore. The immense structure, once deployed, will also be recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest underwater sculpture in the world.
Artificial reefs are constructed by intentionally placing dense materials, such as old ships and barges, concrete and steel demolition debris and dredge rock on the sea floor within designated reef sites. At present, the division holds permits for 15 artificial reef sites encompassing a total of 25 square miles of sea floor. The reefs are strategically located along the coast so that 1 site is within easy boat range of 12 New Jersey ocean inlets.
Within each reef site, which range in size from one-half to over four square miles, numerous “patch reefs” have been constructed. A patch reef is a one-half to 5-acre area where one barge load of material has been deployed. In total, over 1200 patch reefs have been constructed on the state’s 15 reef sites since the program began. Reefs are now being used extensively by anglers and divers who catch sea bass, blackfish, porgy and lobster.
Research projects designed to investigate the biology and ecology of ocean reefs completed during the past year included the food habits of black sea bass and the colonization of reef structures by blue mussels, barnacles and other marine invertebrates. Such studies help assess the effectiveness of reef construction efforts in providing habitat for New Jersey’s marine life.
While placing a giant horseshoe crab is unique, creating man-made reefs in New Jersey is not.  Since 2006, the NJ DEP has created many artificial reef structures along the Jersey Shore.
In 2011, the retired U.S. Navy destroyer Radford was sunk.
The Arthur W. Radford measures 563 feet in length, 55 feet in beam and displaced more than 9000 tons. Placement of a vessel of this magnitude on an artificial reef provides immediate ecological, recreational and economic benefits. The reef supporting structure is expected to last more than 100 years, providing essential marine habitat and recreational angling and diving opportunities for generations to come.
The Radford Reefing Project was a collaborative effort between the U.S. Navy and the states of New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. The vessel was prepared in such a way that it will immediately become a world class scuba diving and fishing destination. The Radford is a one-of-a-kind artificial reef and its colossal size and diversified structure will appeal to scuba divers of all skill levels. The vessel’s numerous compartments and tens of thousands of nooks and crannies will provide habitat for more than 150 species of fish and marine life and will quickly become a premiere recreational fishing destination
Other items and objects sunk as reefs include old fishing boats, reef balls, subway cars and large concrete castings.  The Axel Carlson Reef, located .. is also home to many surplus military tanks.  The reef is located 2 nautical miles off the cost of Mantaloking and is four square miles in size, consisting 90% of reef rock at a depth of 66 to 80 feet.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Greenpeace fails to stop super-trawler

From Big Pond News:  Greenpeace fails to stop super-trawler 

The super-trawler Margiris has entered Port Lincoln harbour in South Australia after repelling an attempt by Greenpeace to intercept it.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Macken said activists tried to board the vessel on Thursday morning but crew members managed to repel them.

A pilot vessel was accompanying the 142-metre Margiris into port at 9.50am (CST).

Greenpeace is calling on the Gillard government to refuse to grant a fishing license to Margiris and to introduce a policy to ban super trawlers from Australian ports.

No protesters were in sight at the wharf as the trawler was entering the harbour.

Seafish Tasmania intends to use the Margiris to fish for 18,000 tonnes of redbait and mackerel, a quota the company says has been backed by a group of eminent marine scientists.

But the ship has attracted widespread opposition, particularly in Tasmania.

A complaint by Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has resulted in a Commonwealth Ombudsman's investigation into the decision on its quota.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lavender lobster lifted from sea

From the Southland Times:  Lavender lobster lifted from sea

A lavender crayfish, "sticking out like a sore thumb", gave a Bluff skipper and his crew a surprise yesterday.
Druce Nilsen, skipper of the Caroline, was fishing off Long Point, near Bluff, when crew member Mike Burt caught the unusual creature.
It was sticking out like a sore thumb among the crayfish catch, Mr Nilsen said. The crayfish had a pale purple shell with a cream underbelly and legs.
Mr Burt was delighted with his catch.
"I have been fishing for 25 years and have never caught anything like this before. It's very unusual, none of the crew have seen anything like it," he said.
At first the fishermen were not sure what species the creature was and thought it might have been an albino crayfish.
Auckland University associate professor of marine science Andrew Jeffs said the creature was unusual but it was not albino.
The creature was a common New Zealand species of rock lobster: the red or spiny rock lobster Jasus edwardsii, he said.
When he first saw its photo, he thought it could have been another species found in deep water.
"It looks like it has been feeding in deep water or an area where there isn't a lot of natural food colouring in its food," he said.
It was definitely not albino because that species had almost no colour and was a pale cream all over.
University of Otago associate professor of marine science Stephen Wing said it looked like what commercial fishermen referred to as a "run fish", which was quite light in colour, without the deep red or purple on the carapace.
"They are transient individuals that spend quite a bit of time on the sand moving along the coast and are the same species as Jasus edwardsii/red rock lobster . . . found on the reefs," he said.
In June last year a lavender lobster was caught by a fisherman in Te Anau. Its colour was linked to its diet.
Mr Nilsen said he would release the pale crayfish back into the sea where they had found it.