Alaska & Pacific / SQUID

Rising water temperature makes stock 
scarce, but fleet has few alternatives

By Charlie Ess

An upward swing in ocean temperatures appears to have hampered this year’s West Coast squid harvest. Last year, cooler ocean temperatures near the coastline translated to heavy fishing, with some boats landing upward of 40 tons per day. The season’s harvest for California, Oregon and Washington was 113,000 tons for a value of $71.82 million, according to data from PacFIN.

This year, however, rising ocean temperatures are threatening to have an adverse effect on landings. California is a major squid contributor early in the season, but its coastline has been averaging three to five degrees higher water temperature than normal, which is affecting landings. As of June 26, the fleets from the three states had landed just over 82 tons.

Some California fishermen concentrated efforts on anchovies or mackerel, while others stayed tied to the docks, said Gaspar Catanzaro, a sales representative with Monterey Fish Co., in Monterey, Calif.

This year’s cancellation of the sardine fishery didn’t help.

“We haven’t seen anything,” said Catanzaro of squid landings. “We’re hoping this is going to be like it was back in the 1980s when we went fishing in Alaska and heard [in July] that they were really starting to nail them down here.”

For that to happen, water temperatures off California have to drop significantly.

The West Coast squid season runs from April 1 to March 31, with a commercial harvest limit of 118,000 tons. Some years, the fishing picks up in July, while most years autumn brings in the brunt of the harvest.

Catanzaro said that the water temperature recorded at an offshore buoy this winter hit 56 degrees. “When you start seeing 52 degrees, squid get hard to find.”

“[Squid fishing has been] very slow, and the squid are very small,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, in Buellton.

“These are very challenging conditions,” said Pleschner-Steele, adding that environmental groups have lobbied hard to reduce harvest guidelines on anchovies and mackerel, two peripheral species that fishermen can chase in times of low squid prospects.

“With no squid, we just start packing anchovies, mackerel, salmon and whatever we can,” said Catanzaro.

The cause for the warmer water lies with stubborn ridges of high pressure that have resided over California since last year. While the high pressure makes for mild temperatures and fair skies, the lack of low-pressure storms that push surface waters west and cause an upwelling of cooler waters near the coast allows the sun to heat large masses of water.

Little or no upwelling also creates a shortage of nutrients near the surface to power the lower layers of the food chain, which feed squid and other species of interest to the commercial fleet.

“The whole system isn’t very productive,” said Nicholas Bond, deputy director of the University of Washington’s College of Environment. “With the lack of nutrients and upwelling, it just means that the whole system is impoverished.”

An enclave of cooler waters offshore of northern Washington and southern British Columbia has squid and other species packed tightly into it, said Bond, adding that predation on squid and other critters lower in the food chain runs high in the area.

Bond and other scientists predict the El Niño conditions that cause these weather patterns will persist at least through this year. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

While the oceanic conditions promise to hamper the West Coast squid harvest, worldwide supplies are down, according to Globefish, FAO’s office that monitors international fish trading. Production of illex squid were running 60 percent less this year compared to harvests in 2013, the latest year Globefish has figures for.

Most squid caught along the West Coast finds its way to China. In 2014, the U.S. exported 65.61 million kilos of market squid to China, 7.04 million kilos to the Philippines and 3.46 million kilos to Japan.

“The squid fishery is very important to commercial fishermen,” said Bond. “To see that impacted is a big deal.”

* * *

Northeast / STONE CRAB

Asian live market bumps prices to record,
but temps could wreak havoc on harvest

By Hoyt Childers

On the heels of strong 2014-15 seasons for most spiny lobster and stone crab fishermen, hopes for the 2015-16 seasons are high. Record prices during the past season for both fisheries leveraged what would have to be considered a middling stone crab harvest and a good spiny lobster harvest into a great overall finish. Final numbers for both fisheries are not yet available, but projections indicate the overall value of the fisheries was very high.

“Pricewise, it was a really good season,” said Florida Keys fisherman Gary Nichols, with decent landings for both.

Average annual prices for stone crab jumped from $9.29 in 2012 to $13.17 in 2013 to $14.38 in 2014, according to data from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Spiny lobster prices jumped from $5.85 in 2012 to $8.25 in 2013 to $10.51 on average in 2014. A red-hot Asian live market elevates lobster prices, and stone crab is regaining its prerecession market stature.

At various times during the season, ex-vessel prices for both fisheries were much higher than the lofty 2014 averages.

Late in the lobster season, Nichols was pulling his traps, and prices were still “tremendous. We had $20 a pound lobster last week, and [this week] it’s $18,” he says.

Looking ahead to the early weeks of the lobster season, which was scheduled to open Aug. 6, and stone crab, which opens Oct. 15, weather could be an issue if early summer patterns persist. If the very high June temperatures observed in Florida continue into the fall, water temperature could be a critical factor.

The PaV1 virus that attacks juvenile lobsters has been a problem to varying degrees in the spiny lobster fishery for years. Research by University of Florida marine ecologist Donald C. Behringer and others suggests that elevated water temperatures stress lobsters and may make them more vulnerable to 
the virus.

NOAA’s One Month Outlook Temperature Probability predictions projected higher than normal temperatures into July, at least. A spot check at Key West on June 20 showed water temperature of 86.7 degrees compared to the average June temperature of 
85 degrees.

A tropical storm or two could turn things around in a hurry. Fishermen generally hope for some tropical weather to stir things up a bit, forestalling drought and cooling off temperatures, without the damage associated with strong storms and hurricanes.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a below normal hurricane season for 2015, with a 70 percent likelihood of six to 11 named storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes. The Florida peninsula has experienced mostly mild to moderate tropical storms and little in the way of direct hits from major hurricanes since the devastating 2004-05 storms.

Fishermen are also looking for some good news on spiny lobster management, as a joint state and federal panel recommended that spiny lobster, managed jointly by the South Atlantic and Gulf councils, be exempted from federal annual catch limits as a result of its unique biology.

Bill Kelly, executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association says that ACL overages, like the 600,000 pounds reported for the 2013-14 season, are to some degree the result of better reporting in recent years, and that, in any case, science has shown that lobster recruitment is not linked to production in the Florida fishery.

“We’re seeing more accountability… better reporting,” he said. “All the recruitment comes from the Caribbean basin.”

However, language in the Magnuson-Stevens Act would require an amendment (as proposed in H.R. 1335) for the councils to have authority to grant such an exemption, Kelly said.


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