Category Archives: Marine

Recreational Pacific Halibut Fishery to Close Saturday, Sept. 24

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announces the recreational Pacific halibut fishery will close Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12:01 a.m. for the remainder of 2016. Based on the latest catch projections, CDFW expects the 2016 quota of 29,640 pounds will be exceeded unless the fishery is closed.

Formal authority to close the fishery resides with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which took action to close the fishery following consultation with CDFW.

Beginning in 2015, CDFW committed to tracking the fishery inseason to ensure catch amounts would not exceed the California quota. The quota amount is determined annually in January through an international process, and is largely driven by results from the annual stock assessment conducted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC).

Pacific halibut occupy a large geographic range, from the Aleutian Islands eastward through Alaska to British Columbia and throughout ocean waters of the Pacific Northwest. Along the West Coast, they are commonly found as far south as Point Arena in Mendocino County. In recent years, catches in northern California have increased, consistent with a general shift of the stock to the south and east.

CDFW field staff sampled public launch ramps and charter boat landings to monitor catches of Pacific halibut along with other marine sportfish throughout the season. Using this information, CDFW conferred with NMFS and IPHC on a weekly basis to review projected catch amounts and determine when the quota would be attained.

For current information about the Pacific halibut fishery, science or management, please check one of the following resources:


Media Contacts:
Carrie Wilson, CDFW Communications, (831) 649-7191
Deb Wilson-Vandenberg, CDFW Marine Region, (831) 649-2892

Sea Otter Survey Encouraging, but Comes Up Short of the “Perfect Story”

The southern sea otter, Enhydra lutris nereis, continues its climb toward recovery, according to the annual count released by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners today. For the first time, southern sea otters’ numbers have exceeded the threshold required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider de-listing the species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The annual count will need to surpass this threshold for the next two years for USFWS to review the otters’ listed status. However, localized population declines at the northern and southern ends of the range continue to be a cause for concern among resource management officials.

This year’s survey results suggest an increasing trend over the last five years of more than 3 percent per year. The population index, a statistical representation of the entire population calculated as the three-year running average of census counts, has climbed to 3,272, up from 2,939 in 2013. The growth is accounted for by an unexpected jump in numbers in the center of the sea otter’s range, an area that spans the Californian coast from Monterey south to Cambria.

“We believe the high count this year is partly explained by excellent viewing conditions, but it also appears to reflect increased food availability in the range center,” says Dr. Tim Tinker, a research ecologist who leads the USGS sea otter research program. “The boom in sea urchin abundance throughout northern and central California has provided a prey bonanza for sea otters, and that means more pups and juveniles are surviving to adulthood.”

While the overall population index continues to trend upward, the northern and southern subsets of the population continue a negative five-year decline, dropping 2.5 percent and 0.6 percent per year. “We are still seeing large numbers of stranded otters near the range peripheries, a high percentage of which have lethal shark bite wounds,” says Mike Harris, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “These deaths may explain the lack of population growth in those areas.”

Declines at the range ends have implications for the long term outlook for sea otter recovery. “Negative population trends at the edges of the range are probably responsible for the lack of range expansion over the last decade,” explained Tinker. “These are the portions of the population that typically fuel the colonization of new habitats.”

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland coast, the USGS also surveys the distinct population at San Nicolas Island in the southern California Bight. This population, established by translocation in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s, but over the last decade has been growing rapidly with a mean growth rate of 13 percent per year. “The sea otters at San Nicolas Island continue to thrive, and some may eventually emigrate to and colonize other Channel Islands in southern California,” says Brian Hatfield, the USGS biologist who coordinates the annual census.

Since the 1980s, USGS scientists have computed the annual population index and evaluated trends in the southern sea otter. For sea otters to be considered for removal from threatened species listing under the Endangered Species Act, the population index would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years, according to the threshold established under the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan by the USFWS. To reach the optimum sustainable population level under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is the number of animals that will result in the maximum productivity of the population while considering carrying capacity and ecosystem health, the southern sea otter population would likely have to reach as many as 8,400 animals in California.

“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said Lilian Carswell, Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, “but sustained population growth will require range expansion, which means that sea otters will somehow have to get past the shark gauntlets near the ends of the current range. Over the longer term, it’s not just sea otter numbers we’re after, but the restoration of ecological relationships in the ecosystems where sea otters and other nearshore species coevolved.”

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. In Elkhorn Slough, located between Santa Cruz and Monterey, a recent study suggests that sea otters’ appetite for crabs can improve the health of seagrass beds, and USGS scientists are collaborating with biologists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, University of California, Santa Cruz and CDFW to study the population in this unique habitat. A new study from UCSC, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is investigating how sea otters near Monterey are responding to the increase in sea urchins, which may be in part a result of loss of predatory sea stars from wasting disease. The scientists are studying whether sea otters play a key role in preventing urchins from over-grazing kelp forests in the absence of sea stars.

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 USGS, CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, UCSC, USFWS and 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 also included San Nicolas Island.

Sea Otter Facts

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented persisting 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 2016 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.


Media Contacts:
Tim Tinker, USGS, (831) 254-9748
Suzanna Soileau, USGS, (406) 994-7257
Ashley Spratt, USFWS, (805) 320-6225
Dana Michaels, CDFW, (916) 322-2420

Poachers Fined for Illegally Taking Abalone in Southern California

Two Southern California men have been convicted and fined for abalone poaching and other resource crimes, stemming from a September 2015 California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) enforcement case.

CDFW wildlife officers assigned to the patrol boat Thresher discovered the two men poaching abalone at Catalina Island. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office subsequently prosecuted both individuals.

Hee Won Chai, 75, of Los Angeles was charged with taking and possessing six pink abalone. Chai pleaded no contest to all six poaching counts. He was ordered by the court to pay $61,626 in fines and penalties, and $1,000 to the CDFW Preservation Fund. Additionally all of his SCUBA equipment was forfeited by the court and his fishing privileges permanently revoked.

Warden Rob Rojas and Warden Jon Holemo work together to recover a game bag the suspected poachers attempted to discard.

Jin Chai Jeong, 58, of Garden Grove was charged with taking and possessing two pink abalone, three green abalone and four spiny lobsters out of season, as well as attempting to destroy evidence. Jeong pleaded no contest to all of the abalone and lobster charges. He was also ordered by the court to pay $61,626 in fines and penalties and $1,000 to the CDFW Preservation Fund, and his SCUBA gear was forfeited by the court and his fishing privileges permanently revoked.

“An extraordinary amount of time and effort is invested in helping the Southern California abalone populations rebound, including the sacrifice of honest abalone harvesters who cannot currently fish for abalone south of San Francisco,” said CDFW Law Enforcement Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “Years ago, abalone poaching laws were significantly strengthened as part of the overall recovery plan to protect California’s abalone populations, but even so, we’ve seen an increase in poaching crimes. Once we find the offenders, we rely on the diligence of the District Attorneys’ offices and the courts to ensure that justice is served. Successful prosecutions such as these will hopefully serve as a deterrent for anyone considering committing these crimes against the environment.”

All of California’s abalone species are struggling, including two that are federally listed as endangered. Disease, predation, slow reproduction and poaching have necessitated a moratorium on abalone harvest south of San Francisco Bay since 1997. Red abalone populations north of San Francisco are the only populations stable enough to support very limited recreational harvest.

Anyone who believes they are witness to unlawful hunting, fishing or pollution is encouraged to call CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program, at (888) 334-2258 or send a text to tip411. Both methods allow the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information to assist with investigations. Callers may remain anonymous, if desired, and a reward can result from successful capture and prosecution.


Media Contacts:
Capt. Rebecca Hartman, CDFW Law Enforcement, (310) 678-4864
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958

Scientists Test Oil Spill Containment Equipment in Mission Bay

IMG_0391.JPGThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) facilitated an exercise today to test response strategies aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive sites in the event of an oil spill near Mission Bay. 

As part of the exercise, OSPR personnel and local oil spill responders stretched 800 feet of orange containment boom across the channel leading into the bay from Mission Point to Hospitality Point. There was no reported spill. These were test procedures to tailor a response and refine the contingency plan to best prevent oil from reaching Mission Bay and the mouth of the San Diego River in the event of a spill. 

“Drills like this not only allow us to test these strategies in real-time conditions, but are also good practice opportunities for local oil spill responders,” said OSPR Environmental Scientist Kris Wiese. 

Factors such as tidal patterns, currents and weather conditions affect how well boom and other equipment works. Testing a strategy helps experts from OSPR determine whether it is likely to be successful in the event of a spill or needs to be altered. 

Pictures from today’s events are available on the OSPR Facebook page. 


CDFW’s Sensitive Site Strategy Evaluation Program (SSSEP) evaluates strategies selected from more than 600 sites statewide that are particularly vulnerable to an oil spill. These areas are identified in Area Contingency Plans (ACPs) and are rich in sensitive resources such as fish, birds and marine mammals. Many also include habitat for wildlife breeding, nesting and feeding.

ACPs cover the entire coastline and marine waters of California and include the state’s busiest port areas: San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles/Long Beach and San Diego. More than 50 state, federal and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, industry and the general public contribute to ACP development.  

Media Contact: Eric Laughlin, OSPR Communications, (916) 214-3279


Commercial and Recreational Rock Crab Fisheries Now Open at Pigeon Point, San Mateo County

Following the lifting of a health advisory in the same area, the commercial and recreational rock crab fisheries are now open from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County south to the U.S. – Mexico border. The commercial and recreational seasons for rock crab are open all year.

The open area along the mainland coast for rock crab fishery has been extended northward to include Pigeon Point, San Mateo County (37° 11′ N lat.). This follows the lifting of the health advisory today by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and a recommendation from the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), after consultation with the director of CDPH, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to lift the closure. The recreational and commercial rock crab fisheries are now open in ocean waters between 37° 11′ N lat. (Pigeon Point, San Mateo County) to the U.S – Mexico border. A closure remains in effect north of this point.

As a precaution, CDPH and OEHHA recommend that anglers and consumers not eat the viscera (internal organs, also known as “butter” or “guts”) of crabs. CDPH and OEHHA are also recommending that water or broth used to cook whole crabs be discarded and not used to prepare dishes such as sauces, broths, soups or stews. The viscera usually contain much higher levels of domoic acid than crab body meat. When whole crabs are cooked in liquid, domoic acid may leach from the viscera into the cooking liquid. This precaution is being recommended to avoid harm in the unlikely event that some crabs taken from an open fishery have elevated levels of domoic acid.

CDFW will continue to closely coordinate with CDPH, OEHHA and fisheries representatives to monitor domoic acid levels in rock crabs to determine when the fishery can safely be opened north of this location.

Areas open to crab fishing include:

  • Commercial and recreational rock crab fisheries are open along the mainland coast south of 37° 11′ N lat. at Pigeon Point, San Mateo County and in state waters off the Channel Islands.
  • Recreational Dungeness crab fishery is open north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line. The recreational season is scheduled to close north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line on July 30.
  • Commercial Dungeness crab fishery is open north of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line and is scheduled to close on July 15.

Areas closed to crab fishing include:

  • Commercial and recreational rock crab fisheries are closed north of 37° 11′ N lat. at Pigeon Point, San Mateo County.
  • Commercial and recreational Dungeness crab fisheries are closed south of the Sonoma/Mendocino county line. The  season closed on June 30 in this area.