crab in tidepool

CDFW Reminds Beach Visitors of Tidepool Collection Regulations

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has noted an increase in the number of visitors to our rocky seashore this summer, and reminds people they must know the rules governing harvest and should do what they can to protect these amazing places.

“Regulations that either prohibit or limit the collection of species like turban snails, hermit crabs and mussels are meant to protect our tidepools, which are full of fascinating life that’s important to the marine ecosystem,” said Dr. Craig Shuman, CDFW Marine Region Manager.

Individuals should not remove any animals from tidepools that they don’t plan on keeping and should also be aware that even walking over some sensitive areas can unintentionally harm tidepool plants and animals.

“It is important to watch where you walk, not only to avoid unintentionally harming the myriad of sea life that call California’s tidepools home, but to avoid an accidental fall,” Shuman said.

Tidepool animals have special regulations that limit the species and numbers that can be taken (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 29.05). Most species found in tidepools can only be collected by hand. The use of pry bars, knives or other devices to remove them from the rocks is not allowed. There are also regulations that cover fish found in tidepools, which can only be taken by hook and line or hand. No nets or other devices can be used. In addition, the California Department of Public Health’s annual mussel quarantine is in effect until at least Nov. 1, because eating mussels at this time of year may be hazardous to your health. Mussels can be collected for bait but may not be taken for human consumption during this period.

“People may not realize that anyone age 16 or older must have a valid sport fishing license to collect tidepool animals, and that there are limits to how many can be taken,” said Assistant Chief Mike Stefanak of the CDFW Marine Law Enforcement Division. “In Southern California, an Ocean Enhancement Validation is also required for tidepool collection.”

Most marine protected areas (MPAs) do not allow collection of tidepool animals. MPA maps and regulations are available on CDFW’s MPA web page, and on the mobile-friendly Ocean Sport Fishing interactive web map. Local authorities may also close off other areas to tidepool collecting.

Tidepooling and legal collecting can be a safe outdoor activity that maintains physical distancing from others as we work to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Those interested in participating must make sure to stay six feet from anyone not in their same household, wear a face mask, follow all fishing regulations, watch for incoming waves and where they step, and stay safe. Any wildlife crimes witnessed can be easily reported to CDFW’s “CalTIP” hotline, by calling 1-888-334-2258, or by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847-411 (tip411).

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Media Contacts:
John Ugoretz, CDFW Marine Region, (562) 338-3068

Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 804-1714

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Sacramento

California Fish and Game Commission logo

At its February meeting in Sacramento, the California Fish and Game Commission took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from the one-day meeting.

The Commission reelected Commissioner Eric Sklar as President and elected Commissioner Samantha Murray as Vice President. Current co-chair assignments were retained for the three committees: commissioners Peter Silva and Murray for the Marine Resources Committee, commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Silva for the Tribal Committee, and commissioners Sklar and Russell Burns for the Wildlife Resources Committee.

Commission Executive Director Melissa Miller-Henson announced plans to celebrate the Commission’s and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) joint 150th anniversary on April 2, 2020 at the State Capitol.

The Commission received a petition evaluation in which CDFW recommended that listing an evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) of mountain lion (southern and central coastal) as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The Commission will decide whether or not listing may be warranted in April. Preceding this receipt, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham made a presentation about recent events related to mountain lions and a new significant change to CDFW mountain lion policy. The change expands the geographic range of sensitive populations of mountain lion from strictly the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountain ranges to the entire range covered under the ESU in the listing petition.

The Commission adopted emergency regulations for recreational take of purple sea urchin at Caspar Cove in Mendocino County as part of a broader study to support recovery of kelp and species that depend on kelp.

The Commission determined that there is sufficient information to indicate that a change in the status of Clara Hunt’s milkvetch from threatened to endangered may be warranted and that it is now a candidate for change of species’ status from threatened to endangered. Clara Hunt’s milkvetch is a plant species in the legume family only found along the border between Napa and Sonoma counties.

After hearing impassioned arguments from stakeholders, the Commission voted unanimously to adopt its first Delta Fisheries Management Policy and an amended Striped Bass Policy.

“I’m proud of the work of our stakeholders, staff of the Commission and CDFW, and Commissioners in reaching this point, recognizing that this is just the beginning of a long effort to effect the changes in the policies to restore the health of the Delta,” said President Sklar.

President Sklar requested that the Commission add language to the Striped Bass Policy to support the “vitality” of the fishery. The newly adopted Delta Fisheries Management Policy calls out explicit support for all game fish fisheries, committing to the striped bass fishery as well as recovery of native species.

Commission President Sklar, Vice President Hostler-Carmesin and Commissioners Burns and Silva were present. Commissioner Murray was absent.

The full Commission agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will also be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for April 15 and 16 in Sacramento.

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The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

First White Abalone Release Marks Major Milestone for Species Facing Extinction

A career dedicated to mollusks isn’t always easy. Sometimes progress can occur at a snail’s pace.

But a team of scientists are close to reaching a significant milestone in their efforts to bring white abalone — a species of sea snail — back from the brink of extinction.

During the week of Nov. 18, thousands of white abalone hatched in a marine lab will be planted in the ocean near Los Angeles and San Diego. It will be the first time that scientists attempt to introduce captive-bred white abalone into the wild.

“It’s thrilling to think that our hard work is going to pay off as far as putting juvenile white abalone in the wild and setting them free,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) co-lead researcher Dr. Laura Rogers-Bennett.

California’s abalone population has been decimated by a combination of commercial overfishing, ocean warming and poor kelp growth. White abalone, sought by divers because of its tender meat, was hit especially hard. The declines resulted in a 1997 ban on all recreational and commercial abalone fishing south of San Francisco, and in 2001 white abalone became the first marine invertebrate to be listed as an endangered species.

It’s been almost two decades since Dr. Rogers-Bennett and her team have found a live juvenile white abalone in the wild.

“Captive breeding might be the only way this population can recover,” she said.

From 1999 to 2004, a team of divers including Dr. Rogers-Bennett and co-lead researcher Ian Taniguchi collected 21 white abalone from the deep reefs in the Channel Islands. Those 21 abalone ultimately led to the production of thousands of offspring at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at University of California, Davis (UC Davis).

CDFW estimates there are only 2,400 wild white abalone living in the ocean off California’s coast. They plan to plant more than 3,000 during the week of Nov. 18.

“It’s a huge milestone, but it’s also just the beginning,” said Taniguchi. “We hope this will be the first of many successful outplants aimed at reestablishing a self-sustaining wild population.”

CDFW is grateful to its many conservation partners for their collaboration on this project including the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The Bay Foundation and Aquarium of the Pacific. This project would not have been possible without significant funding provided by NOAA through its Section 6 grant program.

Media Contacts:

Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120

Dr. Laura Rogers-Bennett, Senior Env. Scientist, (707) 875-2035

southern sea otter

California Sea Otter Numbers Take a Slight Dip From Last Year, but Average Count Exceeds 3,090 for Third Consecutive Year

Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, the population average count would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years for southern sea otters to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite the recent dip in numbers, the population average count this year has reached this three-year threshold.

According to data just released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this year’s average count of 3,128 was 58 sea otters lower than the 2017 survey. Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis, are designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion, and changes in prey.”

In part, this year’s dip reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the three-year average count of the sea otter’s mainland population, which stretches from about Point Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to a few kilometers west of Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County. In contrast, the small sea otter population at San Nicolas Island continues to increase.

“Surface kelp canopies were abundant this year within the otter’s mainland range compared to last year when they were very sparse,” said Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist coordinating the annual range-wide survey. “This may have influenced sea otter distribution and contributed to the higher count in the center of their range.”

Scientists from CDFW, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have conducted this range-wide census of southern sea otter populations every year since the 1980s, except for 2011, when poor weather conditions prevented completion of the field research. Researchers compute the annual population index and evaluate population trends, providing the USFWS and other resource agencies with insight into southern sea otter abundance and distribution.

The mainland population of sea otters was largest in the central part of the species’ range, which is between Seaside and Cayucos; it increased slightly in the southern part of the range. North of the central region, however, the five-year trend in sea otter populations continued to drop. Changes at the range ends have implications for the long-term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“We continue to recover high numbers of shark-bitten sea otters along the northern and southern ends of the range. These are the same areas we’ve documented a decrease in abundance. This trend is concerning and is likely impacting population expansion and recovery,” said Mike Harris, senior environmental scientist with CDFW.

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland California coast, USGS and partners also survey the sea otters at San Nicolas Island in the Southern California Bight. This population, established by introducing sea otters back into the area in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s. However, over the last decade, the population has grown rapidly at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.

The sea otter survey and stranding programs are just one part of a larger research program investigating sea otters and their role as predators in coastal ecosystems. As a “keystone” species, sea otters can give scientists clues on the health of Pacific nearshore ecosystems, which support diverse wildlife species and provide economic support for coastal communities. To keep a finger on the pulse of sea otter populations, USGS researchers monitor changes in the kelp forest ecosystems that provide sea otters with suitable resting and feeding habitat. USGS also collaborates with CDFW and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in running a sea otter stranding network. The findings from these coordinated efforts inform and support effective management of sea otter populations to guide them toward recovery.

Survey Methodology

  • The annual population index is calculated from visual surveys conducted via telescope observations from shore and via low-flying aircraft along the California coastline by researchers, students and volunteers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, USGS, UCSC, USFWS and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • This year, the surveyed coastline spanned from Pillar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rincon Point near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line, and included San Nicolas Island.

About the Sea Otter

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but they were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented near Bixby Creek north of Big Sur.
  • Sea otters are considered a keystone species of rocky sub-tidal ecosystems because they prey on sea urchins that, if left unchecked, can decimate kelp beds.
  • Scientists also study sea otters as an indicator of nearshore ecosystem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first predators exposed to pollutants and pathogens washed down from coastlands, such as the microbial toxin microcystin.
  • The public can report sightings of stranded sea otters to institutions listed on this webpage.

More detailed survey results and maps are available in the full report “Spring 2018 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.

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Media Contacts:
Steve Gonzalez, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 715-9072
Michael Harris, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (805) 772-1135
Ashley McConnell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 320-6225
Robyn Gerstenslager
, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 701-5751