Tag Archives: NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

‘Unprecedented’ Pyrosome Explosion Off Northwest Coast; Not Seen Before 2014

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE’S NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER

By Michael Milstein

Call it the invasion of the pyrosomes.

Researchers from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center are collaborating with colleagues from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon to unravel the mystery of why the strange jelly-like organisms have exploded in number off the Northwest Coast in recent months.

PYROSOMES ARE “BASICALLY LIKE WADS OF GOO” THAT DON’T DO MUCH FOR THE FOOD CHAIN BUT EAT PLANKTON THAT OTHERWISE MIGHT HAVE FED ORGANISMS THAT YOUNG SALMON WOULD HAVE EATEN. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Generally found in more tropical waters around the globe, the tubular pyrosomes were rarely if ever seen off the Northwest until about two years ago. They have since multiplied and this spring appear to be everywhere off the Oregon Coast to the point they are clogging fishing gear by the thousands.

A five-minute midwater tow of a research net off the Columbia River in late May brought up approximately 60,000 pyrosomes. Scientists spent hours sorting through the massive catch to find the rare fish they were targeting.

A LONGTIME FEDERAL RESEARCHER BASED IN NEWPORT SAYS THAT HE’D NEVER SEEN PYROSOMES HERE BEFORE 2014. A NUMBER OF THEM COVER FISHING GEAR. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

“We have a lot of questions and not many answers,” said Ric Brodeur of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s research station in Newport, Oregon. Brodeur has worked off the Oregon Coast since the 1980s and had never seen a pyrosome before 2014. “We’re trying to collect as much information as we can to try to understand what is happening, and why.”

Underwater video captured by the NOAA research ship Bell M. Shimada in May show legions of pyrosomes in extremely high densities from approximately 40 to 200 miles off of the Oregon Coast. They ranged in size from 4-6 cm (about an inch) to a whopping 78 centimeters, or more than two feet long. Researchers found larger and more abundant pyrosomes farther offshore.

PYROSOMES RANGE FROM A FEW INCHES TO MORE THAN 2 FEET LONG. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Pyrosomes are as mysterious as they are strange. Each pyrosome is made up of individual zooids – small, multicellular organisms – linked together in a tunic to form a tube-like colony that is closed on one end. They are filter feeders and use cilia to draw plankton into their mucous filter.

Some bony fish, dolphins and whales are known to eat pyrosomes, but scientists know little about their role in the offshore ecosystem or how they may affect the food web in areas where they are now appearing in such high densities.

“At first we didn’t know what to make of these odd creatures coming up in our nets but as we headed north and further off shore, we started to get more and more,” said Hilarie Sorensen, a University of Oregon graduate student who was aboard the Shimada on its May research trip off Oregon. “We began counting and measuring them to try to get a better understanding of their size and distribution related to the local environmental conditions.”

PYROSOMES DRIFT AT SEA. (HILARIE SORENSEN/NOAA FISHERIES)

Pyrosome numbers in the Northern California Current – which encompasses Northern California, Oregon and Washington – increased in 2015 and again in 2016. As far as scientists know, however, their abundance this year is unprecedented. Salmon and shrimp fisheries reported large catches of pyrosomes off Oregon early in the season and the odd organisms are turning up in large numbers as far north as Southeast Alaska.

The feeding behavior of pyrosomes, the environmental variables that may affect their numbers and their impacts on the food web are largely unknown. Researchers are interested in unraveling those mysteries by exploring pyrosome population dynamics and determining what could be driving such high abundances in the Northern California Current.

Feds, Tribe Prevail In Elwha Salmon, Steelhead Hatchery Appeal

Federal and tribal fishery overseers have prevailed in a court case involving Elwha River salmon and steelhead that allows for continued use of hatchery fish in the restoration of runs to the north Olympic Peninsula watershed.

After hearing arguments last month, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court’s ruling that the National Marine Fisheries Service had done its homework when approving state and Lower Elwha Klallam production programs for after two dams were removed.

THE ELWHA RIVER ABOVE THE SITE OF THE DAMS. (OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK)

“The Ninth Circuit found our analysis was complete and that both NOAA and the (National) Park Service have thoroughly adequately assessed the impacts involved, from the dam removal process to the efforts to recover salmon and steelhead populations,” explained Michael Milstein, a spokesman  for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Portland.

That analysis was the target of a long-running challenge in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by the Wild Fish Conservancy, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and Wild Salmon Rivers.

According to federal court documents, they had argued that NMFS’s approval of hatchery programs violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts, and that the tribe’s facility output represented a taking of ESA-listed fish.

But 9th Circuit Court Judges Susan P. Graber, Sandra S. Ikuta and Andrew D. Hurwitz largely agreed with U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle’s earlier ruling, and according to Milstein that “clears the way” for NMFS and its partners to focus on restoring the river, including with hatchery fish per a 2012 environmental assessment that found minimal risk and some benefits from them.

The Elwha restoration is a project on a huge scale, featuring the removal of Elwha Dam in 2012 and Glines Canyon Dam in 2014, freeing up dozens of miles of river and tributaries that flow from the heart of the Olympic Peninsula.

To that end, earlier this spring, WDFW, the National Park Service and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe extended a fishing moratorium on the Elwha through May 2019.

For its part, WDFW doesn’t appear interested in stocking steelhead into the river, as last summer it declared the Elwha a wild steelhead gene bank. The Wild Steelhead Coalition said that designation was the result of “decades of work,” but the tribe’s hatchery means the sanctuary “still does not exist.”

Puget Sound Canary Rockfish Delisted, With Help From Anglers

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries last week removed Puget Sound canary rockfish from the federal list of threatened and endangered species after a recent collaborative study found those fish are not genetically distinct from other canary rockfish on the West Coast.

Although many state rockfish populations have declined in abundance, the agency determined that the canary rockfish population in Puget Sound and the inland waters of British Columbia does not qualify for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), because it is not “discrete from” the species as a whole.

A STUDY FOUND THAT CANARY ROCKFISH IN PUGET SOUND ARE PART OF THE SAME STOCK AS SWIMMING OFF THE OREGON COAST, WHERE AN ODFW DIVER FILMED THIS ONE. (ODFW)

“The recent genetic findings show that canary rockfish of the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin are actually part of the larger canary rockfish population along the Pacific Coast,” said Dan Tonnes of NOAA Fisheries. “Coastal canary rockfish were determined to be rebuilt under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2016.”

NOAA’s action does not affect state fishing restrictions on rockfish in Puget Sound, which prohibit anglers from targeting, possessing or retaining any rockfish species, because yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio remain listed under the ESA. State regulations also prohibit recreational fisheries from targeting rockfish in the Sound, and do not allow recreational bottom-fishing below 120 feet.

In 2010, NOAA listed canary rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and bocaccio in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin under the ESA as “distinct population segments,” presuming that they were genetically discrete from the rest of the species. Without species-specific genetic studies to draw on, this presumption was based on genetic variation among populations of other rockfish species.

To test that premise, the agency’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle launched a cooperative study in 2015 to gather and study samples from listed rockfish in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin and from reference areas outside that area to better understand their genetic diversity. Canadian authorities also provided biological samples of rockfish from the inland waters of the Georgia Strait.

The study drew on the expertise of local fishing guides, along with members of the Puget Sound Anglers and Kitsap Pogie fishing clubs to catch enough canary and yelloweye rockfish to conduct the genetic analysis using small tissue samples taken from the fins of each fish.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), another partner in the study, compiled data on ESA-listed rockfish in the area from previous surveys and deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) below the surface of the Sound to locate rockfish and guide test fishers to their location.

“By combining the at-sea experience of long-time bottomfish anglers with the scientific knowledge of the WDFW, we were successfully able to locate and sample hundreds of fish,” said Dayv Lowry, WDFW senior research scientist. “It was a perfect example of collaboration and cooperation in search of actionable knowledge for rockfish management.”

Rockfish caught for the study were handled carefully and released using a special descending device to avoid barotrauma, which is caused by the change in air pressure when a fish is brought from deep waters to the surface. Fish were also marked for identification with an external tag, and several of those fish were sighted by the WDFW during subsequent ROV surveys.

The analysis showed that Puget Sound canary rockfish are not genetically distinct from canary rockfish on the West Coast, but affirmed that yelloweye rockfish in those waters are genetically distinct from coastal populations, and will therefore remain listed under the ESA. Bocaccio will also remain listed, because too few of them were found during the study to conduct a thorough analysis or change their status.

Rockfish are long-lived fish that reproduce slowly and play an important role in the Puget Sound ecosystem. Research indicates that total abundance of rockfish in Puget Sound has dropped approximately 70 percent in the last 40 years.

NOAA Fisheries is developing a recovery plan for yelloweye rockfish and bocaccio that will serve as a roadmap for conservation and recovery of these species.