Commercial Dungeness Crab Update

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) completed the most recent marine life entanglement risk assessment under the Risk Assessment Mitigation Program (RAMP). Recent survey data indicate Humpback whales have begun to return from their winter breeding grounds to northern California fishing grounds. Humpback and Blue whales have also been sighted further offshore in central California but primarily outside the fishing grounds. As a result, CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham has issued a depth constraint of 30 fathoms for Fishing Zones 1 and 2 (Oregon state line to the Sonoma/Mendocino county line). Constraining the fishery to fishing grounds shoreward of 30 fathoms will help minimize entanglement risk in Fishing Zones 1 and 2.

Map showing six RAMP fishing zones off California coast
(click to enlarge map)

Beginning at noon on May 10, 2021, from the Oregon state line to the Sonoma/Mendocino county line, commercial Dungeness crab fishing will only be allowed in ocean waters 30 fathoms and shallower. All vessels must also carry onboard an electronic monitoring system capable of recording the vessel’s location while engaged in fishing activity using GPS coordinates at a frequency of no less than once per minute during fishing operations. Electronic monitoring data must be made available to CDFW upon request for the duration of the fishing period and 60 days thereafter. This management action would remain in place until lifted by the CDFW Director or the season closes. If operators have questions about the electronic monitoring requirement, please contact CDFW at whalesafefisheries@wildlife.ca.gov.

The CDFW Director will also maintain a statewide Fleet Advisory for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery for all Fishing Zones. Under the advisory, CDFW encourages the fleet to implement fishing best practices (e.g. minimizing knots, line scope) and to immediately remove all gear from ocean waters when an operator no longer intends to fish. Vessels fishing in Zones 1-4 should pay particular attention to the location of set gear and foraging whales and minimize entanglement risk by adhering to the Best Practices Guide. The fleet should be vigilant and move or avoid setting gear in areas where whales are transiting or foraging, particularly in areas around Reading Rock north of Trinidad.

CDFW will continue to monitor all available data until the next risk assessment (expected to occur on or around May 14, 2021). The fleet should be prepared to implement a change in management action which may include a Zone closure(s) in the coming weeks for all California waters.

For more information related to the risk assessment process, please visit CDFW’s Whale Safe Fisheries page or for more information on the Dungeness crab fishery, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/crab.

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Media Contacts:
Ryan Bartling, CDFW Marine Region, (415) 761-1843
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Keep Tahoe Bears Wild!

Spring Is Here, and With It Some Very Hungry Bears

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. – The snow is melting in the Lake Tahoe region and a mild winter has given way to a bustling early spring for wildlife in the area. Bears have emerged from their dens and are on the move and hungry.

In the fall, black bears experienced hyperphagia (pronounced hai·pr·fei·jee·uh), which is an increase in feeding activity (consuming about 25,000 calories a day) driven by their need to fatten up before winter. Over the course of the winter, their bodies utilize those fat stores during hibernation when food is scarce. Come spring, their body mass will have naturally decreased and as a result, bears will be on the lookout for easy food sources to help rebuild those fat reserves.

This time of year, bears seek out fresh grasses that are starting to sprout, which often brings them into human occupied areas with green lawns. Unfortunately, these urban areas have an abundance of garbage for bears to easily access so it is up to visitors and residents to keep bears from finding unnatural human food sources. 

Bears are an important part of the Lake Tahoe ecosystem and allowing them access to human food and garbage is a detriment to natural resources in the region. Bears help spread berry seeds through their scat, transport pollen, eat insects and provide other essential functions of nature. As a result, if they find and access human food and garbage, bird seed, pet food, coolers and other sources of human food, the Tahoe Basin loses the benefits bears offer to its natural processes. Bears need to be wild animals rather than garbage disposals, especially since these unnatural food sources can impact their overall health and damage or rot their teeth. 

In fact, bears will unknowingly eat indigestible items from human trash like foil, paper products, plastics and metal that can damage their internal systems and even lead to death. If these items do make it through their system, they leave it behind in their scat rather than the native seeds and healthy fertilizer needed to grow the next generation of plant life. 

Healthy bears mean healthy ecosystems, and we can all do our part to set both up for success!

“The California Department of Fish and Wildlife would like to remind both visitors and residents that the Lake Tahoe Basin is home to hundreds of black bears. Unfortunately, it only takes a few careless people to help make a bear accustomed to human food sources,” said Jason Holley, supervising wildlife biologist for the department’s North Central Region. “We ask for your help to keep Tahoe’s bears wild. Do not feed or approach wildlife and please store food and garbage appropriately.” 

Follow these tips to help keep Tahoe’s bears wild:

  • Never feed wildlife.
  • Store all garbage in and properly close bear-resistant garbage containers, preferably bear boxes. Inquire with local refuse companies about bear box incentives and payment programs. Visit https://southtahoerefuse.com/bear-info/ and/or www.ndow.org/Nevada_Wildlife/Bear_Logic/ for more information.
  • Never leave leftovers, groceries, animal feed, garbage or anything scented in vehicles, campsites, or tents.
  • Be sure to always lock vehicles and close the windows. Keep in mind eating in the car leaves lingering food odors that attracts bears.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
  • Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
  • Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences where allowed to keep bears out. Refrain from hanging bird feeders.
  • When camping, always store food (including pet food), drinks, toiletries, coolers, cleaned grills, cleaned dishes, cleaning products, and all other scented items in bear-resistant containers (storage lockers/bear boxes) provided at campsites. Bear resistant coolers that come equipped with padlock devices should always be locked to meet bear resistant requirements.
  • Always place garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters in campgrounds or in bear-resistant containers at campsites (storage lockers/bear boxes), and close and lock after each use.
  • Store food in bear-resistant food storage canisters while recreating in the backcountry.
  • Give wildlife space, especially when they have young with them. 
  • Leave small bears alone, mom might be right around the corner.

To report human-bear conflicts in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at 916-358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to public dispatch at 916-358-1300. To report human-bear conflicts in Nevada, contact Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-BEAR (2327). If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

For more information on peacefully coexisting with bears, visit TahoeBears.org.

If you have any questions or concerns, always reach out to the following agency wildlife experts:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife:  916-358-2917

California State Parks:  530-525-9535

Nevada Department of Wildlife:  775-688-BEAR (2327)

Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

Invasive Seaweed Found in Newport Bay

Multiple federal, state and local agencies have been notified of an invasive algae species discovered in Newport Bay, Calif. The algae, which is native to Florida and other subtropical and tropical locales, is scientifically known as Caulerpa prolifera. It can grow quickly, choking out native seaweeds and potentially harming marine life through lost habitat. The unusual patch of algae discovered by a diver in Newport Bay was eventually identified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture which alerted other agencies.

Federal, state and local agencies have been meeting and working quickly to identify the extent of the algae’s infestation in Newport Bay. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists and divers are currently being deployed to map and identify the location of the species.

A similar species of invasive algae, Caulerpa taxifolia, was identified in California in 2000 and was successfully eradicated through a comprehensive joint local, state and federal effort in 2006. Due to the similarity between these two species, scientists believe this algae species may pose a serious threat to our local coastal ecosystems. Caulerpa species can reproduce by fragmentation, which is when small pieces of this algae break off and can root and quickly reproduce, rapidly outcompeting native algae and sea grasses.

Although there is significant concern this species could potentially be harmful to native species, there is no danger to humans. However, it is imperative that the public avoid contact with the plant due to its extreme ease of recolonizing from just tiny fragments. If you believe you have seen this invasive algae, please visit the Reporting a Caulerpa Sighting webpage and complete a Suspect Invasive Species Sighting Report. Please do not collect a specimen, as this may lead to further spread.

Additional information will be released as CDFW gathers more information with their state, federal and local agency partners.

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Media Contacts:
Becky Ota, CDFW Marine Region, (650) 631-6789
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

CDFW photos of invasive Caulerpa prolifera by Environmental Scientist Amanda Van Diggelen.

California Fish and Game Commission Meets Remotely

At its April meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission acted on several issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from yesterday’s meeting.

The Commission welcomed newly appointed Commissioner Erika Zavaleta and acknowledged the reappointments of Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Samantha Murray as commissioners. See the governor’s office press release for more information.

During his regular report, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess announced Warden Jonathan Garcia as Wildlife Officer of the Year.

The Commission adopted changes to waterfowl hunting regulations for the 2021-22 season. These changes include an increase to 101 day seasons in most zones to accommodate the January 31, 2022 closing date and an increase in the brant season length to 37 days. The Commission and CDFW discussed partnerships with stakeholders to conserve waterfowl habitat on public, private and agricultural lands.

The Commission received one-year status review reports on petitions to list three species – Clara Hunt’s milkvetch, upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon and northern California summer steelhead. The Commission will consider listing these species under the California Endangered Species Act at its June meeting.

The Commission granted CDFW six-month extensions to deliver the one-year status review reports on petitions for two species – mountain lion and Shasta snow-wreath.

The full commission – President Peter Silva, Vice President Samantha Murray, and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Erika Zavaleta and Eric Sklar – was present.

The agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at fgc.ca.gov. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for May 11, 2021.

As a reminder, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commission meetings through June 2021 will be held via webinar and teleconference.

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

Excellent Water Skills Help Stop Marine Aquaria Poacher

The California Fish and Game Commission recently revoked commercial marine aquaria fishing privileges for David W. Hornbaker due to unlawful take of marine aquaria species. Hornbaker was charged with using an unlawful anesthetic substance to collect in an area in which he was directly warned not to do so, then failed to cooperate with wildlife officers by attempting to destroy evidence.

In Nov. 2013, while on patrol along the frontside of Santa Catalina Island off Emerald Bay, Wildlife Officers Spencer Gilbert (now retired) and Rob Rojas from the patrol boat Thresher, skippered by Lt. Eric Kord, noticed a sailboat anchored offshore. The wildlife officers knew from a prior contact that the boat belonged to Hornbaker, a commercial marine aquaria collector. It is unlawful to collect marine aquaria at Santa Catalina Island. As they approached, they could see that Hornbaker was not on the boat but was underwater on a SCUBA dive. They searched for, and located, tell-tale SCUBA bubbles on the water’s surface. Warden Rojas doffed his uniform and with nothing more than a mask, fins, swim trunks and a breath of air, dove down to observe Hornbaker in 20-30 feet of water. He watched Hornbaker squirt a substance into the reef, resulting in stunned fish exiting the safety of the reef’s hiding places. Hornbaker then scooped the fish with a small aquarium net and placed it into a container strapped to his side. Marine aquaria collecting by use of a chemical liquid substance is unlawful, due to the damage it causes to the reef.

The fish he had taken from the reef were blue-banded gobies, vibrantly colored blue and orange fish that are highly sought after by marine aquaria collectors due to their high resale value. 

With probable cause that Hornbaker was engaged in unlawful activity, and while still holding his breath, Warden Rojas identified himself underwater as a wildlife officer with a cloth badge and motioned for Hornbaker to surface. While surfacing, Hornbaker attempted to discard two plastic containers that contained the unknown liquid substance used to incapacitate the fish. Warden Rojas took another breath at the surface and dove back down to retrieve the discarded items, containing what had then become evidence. He also seized the container attached to Hornbaker’s side.

Blue Banded Gobies in the container possessed by the suspect

During the subsequent inspection of Hornbaker’s vessel, Warden Gilbert noticed a second container on the ocean floor under the boat. He also doffed his uniform, swam down and retrieved another container containing gobies, 172 in all.

Upon further analysis by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Water Pollution Control Laboratory, the unknown chemical liquid substance was analyzed and identified as quinaldine, a known fish anesthetic that is illegal to use for marine aquaria collection off California.

CDFW’s Marine Enforcement District (MED) has some extraordinarily talented and dedicated wildlife officers who go to great lengths to protect California’s marine resources,” said MED Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “It takes time for the criminal and administrative processes to work to bring criminals to justice, but the meticulous efforts of Wardens Gilbert and Rojas ultimately resulted in removal of a bad actor from the commercial marine aquaria trade.”

Wildlife officers cited Hornbaker for unlawful take of marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island, unlawful use of quinaldine to take fish and for the unlawful deposit of a deleterious substance into California waters. They properly documented the fish for evidentiary purposes then released them, alive, back into the water. Further investigation revealed that prior to the original contact, Hornbaker had been contacted by a different wildlife officer and was explicitly warned it was unlawful to take marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island. Because the Commission revoked Hornbaker’s commercial fishing privileges he is permanently prohibited from collecting marine aquaria.

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Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095