Recent accomplishments of CDFW's scientific community
The latest issue of California Fish and Game, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s scientific journal, is now available online! Issue 103(4) features articles that add to the knowledge base for three marine species, all of which face potential threats from overharvesting, incidental take and loss of habitat: Thorny stingray, Chinook salmon and green abalone.
The Thorny stingray (Urotrygon rogersi) (PDF) is common in the eastern Pacific, from the Gulf of California south to Ecuador, and is frequently a by-catch of commercial shrimp trawlers. Little is known about its life history and movements. It was thought to occupy relatively shallow depths ranging from two to 15 meters, with a maximum recorded depth of 30 meters. In their published research, Acevedo-Cervantes et al. report the discovery of specimens at a depth of 235 meters—an indicator that the Thorny stingray has the capacity to survive beneath the disturbance of commercial shrimping activity. According to the authors, this new information is “of vital relevance” for the management of the species.
Adams et al. examined the effects of El Niño on adult Chinook salmon as they migrate through the Gulf of the Farallones (PDF). Researchers found that the dressed weight of commercial landed Chinook was lower during El Niño compared to non-El Niño years, a reduction attributed to a disruption in the normal feeding cycle in the Gulf of the Farallones. The analysis suggests that management agencies need to give more consideration to ocean conditions as risk factors in planning the recovery of endangered and at-risk Chinook salmon spawning runs.
Green abalone (Haliotis fulgens; Philippi) (PDF) were once part of a large recreational and commercial fishery, but are now estimated to be at less than 1% of their baseline density. Past attempts at restocking wild populations using juvenile farm-raised green abalone have resulted in high mortality rates. In “Outplanting large adult green abalone (Haliotis fulgens) as a strategy for population restoration,” author Caruso explores the efficacy of using adult specimens—at least 10 years old—to augment wild populations. The resulting 40 percent survival rate is much higher than the survival rates of previous projects that used juveniles. Although it is costly to raise green abalone to adult size, it may be the best method, given the decades of past unsuccessful restocking attempts.
These articles provide information useful to fisheries managers and should be helpful for future recovery efforts.
Cover photo © Peter Hemming
Beneath the waters off the California coast are vast forests that are home to an astounding variety of animals. Their sunlit canopies can soar 150 feet from the ocean’s floor. But instead of trees, these forests are made of kelp.
Worldwide, kelp is used in a host of everyday products like toothpaste, pudding, ice cream and even pharmaceuticals. Although kelp is valuable to humans, it is critical to sustaining life for many ocean-dwelling wildlife species ranging from microscopic plankton to sea otters, pelagic birds and predatory fishes. When a kelp forest is depleted, the entire underwater ecosystem can be thrown out of balance. This is why CDFW scientists are tracking and studying the amount of kelp growing in coastal waters.
In 1989, CDFW marine biologists began using aerial surveys to monitor the size of the kelp forests off of California’s coast. A second survey was conducted a decade later, and since 2002, CDFW has made an effort to conduct these surveys annually (although budget issues sometimes require skipping a year).
The surveys are conducted along the entire coastline and offshore of the Channel Islands. CDFW conducted the earliest surveys on its own, but now contracts out for this work. The contractor uses an aircraft with a specialized camera system that picks up the infrared image of the kelp. Those images become Geographic Information System (GIS) shapefiles that capture a snapshot of what the kelp canopy looks like on a given day. The images enable the viewer to see and compare the spatial area of a specific kelp forest over time.
A graph depicting CDFW’s historic aerial kelp survey data is located on the Kelp and Other Marine Algae webpage.
CDFW’s most recent (2016) kelp survey includes the following findings:
Rebecca Flores Miller, a marine environmental scientist with CDFW’s Marine Region office in Monterey, was the coordinator for the 2016 kelp survey.
“Kelp does fluctuate normally, anyway … there is a seasonality with it,” she explains. “However, during El Nino and warm water conditions as we’ve had in the recent past, the canopy doesn’t grow as well.”
Coastal development can also negatively affect the kelp canopy, as it sometimes leads to pollution, increased turbidity (which reduces the light needed for photosynthesis) and siltation (which can hinder growth or bury young kelp). An increase in urchin populations can also have a dramatic impact on kelp, and recently, a wasting disease decreased the numbers of sea stars (a predator of urchins) statewide.
“All of these things are connected within the ecosystem,” Flores Miller says.
Kelp survey data is available to anyone who is interested – members of the general public, other governmental agencies, universities and researchers.
The dataset has many uses, both within and outside of CDFW. It is used during the review process for commercial kelp bed lease requests. It has been a critical piece of the Marine Protected Area planning process. It has been used to help predict the abundance of many kelp forest-dependent species valued by humans, such as abalone. And it has helped scientists understand issues such as the recent abalone die-off in northern California.
CDFW Photos: giant kelp and bull kelp (by Rebecca Flores Miller), and image of kelp forest near Cambria taken during the 2016 aerial kelp survey.
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