I will remember 2015 as a year characterized by unusual ocean conditions, uncommon events and some very rare circumstances. What started off as a relatively “normal” year quickly changed in mid-April with the closing of the West Coast sardine fishery. Just over a month later the Refugio oil spill occurred, resulting in widespread ecological damage and a six week fishing closure along the Gaviota coast in the Santa Barbara Channel.
As abnormally warm ocean waters blanketed the coast throughout summer and fall, semi-tropical and tropical species were observed off our shores. The warm water brought not only red crabs and sea snakes to Southern California beaches, but some great fishing. Of the 31 recreationally caught wahoo sampled by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) staff over the last 10 years, 29 were caught in 2015. The bluefin tuna diving record was broken not once, but twice, besting the old record by almost 100 pounds.
Unfortunately, brewing beneath the surface was a massive toxic algal bloom that stretched from Southern California to the Gulf of Alaska, resulting in high domoic acid levels in a number of species and the closure of the rock crab and Dungeness crab fisheries. These closures caused devastating economic impacts to fishermen and coastal communities, not to mention the extreme disappointment of recreational crabbers. In addition, CDFW scuba surveys revealed dramatically changed ecosystems off California’s north coast, and the one-two punch of El Niño and the prolonged drought resulted in poor fishing seasons for market squid, salmon, and other species.
Through it all, Marine Region staff led the charge, collecting and analyzing data, developing and implementing policy, and communicating with stakeholders and policy makers. Our administrative team was more crucial than ever, maintaining smooth operations and supporting all our efforts during long days in the field, and often even longer days in meetings with the Pacific Fishery Management Council and Fish and Game Commission.
Resilience is often cited as a primary biological mechanism for marine ecosystems to cope with a changing climate. Through the ups and downs of a crazy 2015, Marine Region staff demonstrated their resilience, commitment, and flexibility in adapting to new conditions. I wish to congratulate our staff for a job well done during a very difficult year, and extend my appreciation to California’s Tribes and tribal communities, our ocean-focused constituents, and partners for their constructive input and dedication to California’s marine resources.
Post by Craig Shuman, CDFW Marine Region Manager