Press Democrat, CA - With the wait underway for federal aid that might help idled fishermen amid the unprecedented closure of California’s commercial Dungeness crab season, scientists and lawmakers assembled at the state capitol to grapple with other looming hardships ahead for those who make their living on the seas.
Between drought, the increasing warmth and acidity of ocean waters and other factors that have disrupted conditions and wildlife habitat, the outlook is overwhelmingly grim, presenters said at an annual forum of the joint legislative Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture.
“Something’s going on in the ocean, and it’s not right, and it doesn’t fit our historical understandings,” California Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham told members of the committee.
Bonham noted stretches of coastline suddenly barren of sea urchins, while tropical sea snakes and other warm water species are plying the waters off the California coast. The prolonged algal bloom and resulting neurotoxin that has shut down the state’s commercial crab season is among numerous anomalies that are growing increasingly apparent, Bonham said.
“This should be an … alarm to the general public to stay aware and engaged in this ecological change that’s going on in the ocean,” Bonham said.
Commercial fishermen, especially those on the North Coast, are all too aware of the impacts, having come off a dismal salmon season last summer. The second blow was the postponement of the crab season over human health concerns presented by a naturally occurring neurotoxin called domoic acid that has persisted in a massive algae bloom off the West Coast.
What’s worse, said Clarissa Anderson, an assistant researcher at UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of Marine Sciences, is the record levels of domoic acid follow an overall rise in the neurotoxin since a shift in conditions observed in 1998.
Given the band of warm water recorded along most of the North American coast in the past year or two, plus increased domoic acid and attendant wildlife impacts, Anderson said, “we could be seeing some kind of ecosystem change that may be lasting. Long lasting.”