Pacific Council News Spring 2020: Habitat, ecosystem, and related stories

NMFS presents California Current Ecosystem and Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Report

Kelp forest
California kelp

The NOAA Fisheries Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) Team presented the annual California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment report to the Council in March. Highlights of 2019 ecosystem conditions include:

  • The system experienced weak to neutral El Niño conditions, average to slightly positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and very weak North Pacific circulation
  • A large marine heatwave emerged in mid-2019, similar in size and intensity to the 2013-2016 “Blob,” but it weakened by December
  • Several ecological indicators implied average or above-average productivity in 2019 although there was also evidence of unfavorable conditions, particularly off central and northern California
  • Indicators are consistent with average to below-average salmon returns in 2020
  • Above-average reports of whale entanglements occurred for the 6th straight year
  • West Coast fishery landings in 2018 declined 8% relative to 2017; revenue declined 7%

The Council’s Fishery Ecosystem Plan calls for an annual report on status and trends in the California Current ecosystem. 

In March the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) was directed to review the methodology for four ecosystem indicators used in the annual report: California sea lion pup count and growth rate as an indicator of forage conditions, the habitat compression index, port-specific revenue indices, and the natural origin Central Valley fall Chinook stock indicator. The IEA Team asked for SSC review of the first three of these, while the SSC added the Chinook status indicator to the list. This peer review helps improve the science underlying the indicators. The SSC review will occur at the September Council meeting. 

The Council also encouraged the IEA team to continue development of socioeconomic and recreational fishery indicators.

Ecosystem Workgroup continues review of Fishery Ecosystem Plan

The Council began a review of the Fishery Ecosystem Plan in 2018, five years after its adoption, as required by the plan itself. In 2019 the Ecosystem Workgroup worked on the vision, purpose, and goals and objectives, delivering possible revisions at last September’s Council meeting. 

Based on this, the Council circulated proposed changes for public review. In March, they adopted revised versions of the first two chapters of the plan.  These chapters include the Council’s vision statement for the status of the California Current ecosystem, the purpose of the plan, goals, and objectives for addressing the Council’s vision, and Council decision-making processes to implement the tenets of the Plan. 

The Council also directed the Ecosystem Work Group to continue reviewing Chapter 3 for adoption in September. Chapter 3 describes the physical, biological, and human components of the California Current ecosystem. To help with this, Ecosystem Workgroup membership will be supplemented with the needed scientific expertise.

Climate scenario workshop results in four climate scenarios

As part of the Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate and Communities Initiative, the Council has been overseeing a climate change scenario planning exercise to help plan for the effects of climate variability and climate change. 

In January 2020 the Council and The Nature Conservancy jointly sponsored a workshop with more than 80 participants to develop draft climate change scenarios. Workshop results were presented to the Council in March. Over the coming months the Council’s Climate and Communities Core Team will further flesh out the four scenarios developed at the workshop with help from the Council’s other advisory bodies.  The Team plans to use these scenario descriptions in stakeholder workshops to be held in the second half of 2020. These workshops will gather information in support of the Council’s planning efforts.

Council sends letter on Columbia River operations draft
environmental impact statement

On April 13 the Council sent a letter drafted by the Habitat Committee with comments on the Columbia River System Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The letter was addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, and Bureau of Reclamation.

The purpose of the DEIS is to update the management of the Columbia River system operations, since conditions have changed since the last EIS in 2002.

The DEIS evaluates impacts to resources in the context of new information and changed conditions in the Columbia River basin. The DEIS also responds to a 2016 U.S. District Court order which stated that the DEIS must ensure that management would not jeopardize the continued existence of species listed under the Endangered Species Act, or adversely affect designated critical habitat. The order states that the DEIS must also strive to improve the survival of both juvenile and adult salmon in the main Columbia/Snake migration corridor.

The Council’s letter expresses concerns that the DEIS does not incorporate the Council’s previous recommendations; does not include an “anadromous fish-focused” alternative in the range of alternatives; does not include an equitable economic analysis of recreational, commercial, and tribal fisheries; does not sufficiently account for the impacts of climate change, or avoid and mitigate increased water temperatures; does not sufficiently assess the benefits of configurations and operations that restore or improve essential fish habitat for salmonids; and that the preferred alternative is not a sufficient improvement over the No Action Alternative and, therefore, fails to meet a number of regional requirements, goals, and objectives for salmon (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Northwest Power Act, Northwest Power and Conservation Council Fish and Wildlife Program Recovery and Harvest Goals, Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force Goals, and state water quality standards).

In summary, the letter states “we find the DEIS (and the preferred alternative in particular) insufficient to provide the recovery actions necessary for ESA-listed stocks, or to provide healthy and harvestable Columbia Basin salmon populations necessary to support sustainable commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries that the Council’s constituencies depend on. We also recognize there is an urgent need for stakeholders to come to long-term solutions that provides reasonable certainty to the objectives of all interests.”

National Marine Sanctuaries update Council on activities

Bill Douros, Director of the West Coast Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, updated the Council in March on sanctuary activities, programs, and upcoming actions of mutual interest.  This annual report from the Sanctuaries gives the Council a chance to coordinate on issues relevant to both the Sanctuaries and the Council.  

Douros reported that the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary began its management plan review in 2015 and aims to issue a draft management plan, draft environmental assessment, and proposed regulations for public comment in spring 2020, with a nine-month comment period.  No regulations that affect fishing activities have been proposed.  He also noted that the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary began its management plan review in 2019.  

More information on recent sanctuary activities can be found in the March report

Council discusses marine planning

In March Caren Braby, Council designee for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, provided an update on marine planning issues, including the annual meeting of the West Coast Oceans Alliance. The Council discussed ways to engage in offshore development plans that may affect fishing activities or fishing-dependent communities. Executive Director Chuck Tracy will discuss the issue with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and provide recommendations to the Council.

Banner with lighthouse and the words "return to newsletter"