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Hakai Magazine: California Condors Hit a Milestone in Their Recovery

October 30, 2019

A narrow strip of US Route 1 brings millions of tourists a year to the steep chaparral flanks of the Santa Lucia Range of Big Sur, on the rugged central California coast. Head east into the mountainous Ventana Wilderness, however, and there are few roads and almost no development. On this remote terrain, five California condor chicks were getting ready to fledge in the October sunshine.

These six-month-old condors mark an important milestone for the species. Just 28 years ago, California condors were extinct in the wild. Now, with these five chicks, their population in central California has ticked above 100. Throughout the southwest United States, their total wild population is well over 300 and still increasing.

In the coming months, the Ventana Wildlife Society, which co-manages the central California condors with Pinnacles National Park, plans to release six more captive-bred condors, says Kelly Sorenson, the society’s executive director. The park also plans to release two, pushing the regional population to 111.

“To have more than a 10 percent increase in condor population in one year is just amazing,” Sorenson says. “The story of the condor is a hopeful one and shows we can make a difference if we work at it.”

Read more…

Hakai Magazine: Bristol Bay Salmon Are in Hot Water

September 11, 2019

I stood on the deck of a fishing boat this past summer, soaked from sweating inside my rain gear after an hour of picking sockeye salmon from our gill net at the mouth of the Nushagak River on Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Fishing is hard enough work, but an early July heatwave sizzled the region, making for grueling conditions on deck. The temperature in southwest Alaska pushed 32 °C. Smoke blowing in from wildfires burning hundreds of kilometers east blotted out the mountains on the northern horizon. Nothing about the conditions was normal.

I’ve worked as both a journalist and a commercial fisherman for over a decade, participating in more than a dozen fisheries from Southern California to the western Gulf of Alaska. I’ve seen booms and busts over the years, and this summer the fishing in Bristol Bay was booming. Estimates say 56.3 million salmon returned to the bay’s rivers. While down from 2018’s record-breaking runs, with 62.3 million fish, Bristol Bay has so far bucked the trend of declining salmon runs seen in other regions. But all is not well. As I was sweating on deck, the water was 18.9 °C—just a few degrees shy of 21 °C, when the temperature starts being lethal to salmon.

Twenty-five kilometers northwest, in the nearby Igushik River, the water was even warmer. One hundred thousand sockeye salmon waited for cooler conditions so they could move upstream to spawn. But, unwilling to pass through the hot, shallow water, the fish used up the available oxygen and suffocated—it was the largest sockeye salmon die-off seen in Bristol Bay, says Timothy Sands, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Elsewhere in the watershed, temperatures also soared. Read more…

San Francisco Chronicle: Diving into climate change on the Northern California coast

August 12, 2019

In the June 23, 2019 travel section of the San Francisco Chronicle I took readers from tide pools to rocky reefs 30 feet below the ocean surface to show how they can witness the effects of climate change on the Northern California coast. For the first article I followed world-class free diver and spearfisherman Greg Fonts underwater to see how sub-tidal ecosystems have changed after kelp forests shrunk by 90 percent in less than a decade. In the second, I explored tide pools off Bodega Bay with UC Davis marine ecologist Eric Sanford to observe intertidal creatures who have moved north to the Sonoma Coast as the ocean has warmed.

Also in the section, I profiled the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s top diver George Z. Peterson and got his top-five scuba diving spots in California. If these stories interest you then check out my article on abalone diving I wrote while a staff writer at The Press Democrat in 2017.

Without abalone, spearfishing hooks North Coast anglers
On a cool, overcast day in May, spearfisherman Greg Fonts floats facedown on the surface of the Pacific Ocean 300 yards off the coast of Fort Bragg, rocking in the swell in a thick wetsuit. A small dive flashlight dangles from his right wrist. His left hand holds a long speargun, an arrow-tipped steel bolt locked in place along the stock with thick rubber tubing.

Through his dive mask, Fonts spots a school of blue rockfish swimming over the rocky reef 20 feet below — a good sign that lingcod may be nearby. With large fang-like teeth, lingcod are marine predators prized for their large fillets of mild, flakey meat. After a deep inhale, Fonts removes his snorkel and duck-dives. With a few kicks of his long flippers, he descends to the reef. Read more…

How is climate change affecting oceans? Check the tide pools
On a sunny afternoon in mid-April, Professor Eric Sanford crouched in a tide pool off Bodega Bay and turned over algae-covered rocks in search of a chocolate porcelain crab, a dime-size crustacean with blue speckles.

The creature has been spotted in small numbers around Bodega Bay for decades. But five years ago a severe marine heat wave, dubbed “the blob,” caused a sharp increase in its numbers north of the Golden Gate, says Sanford, a marine ecologist who researches climate change and coastal ecosystems at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab. Read more…

5 best scuba diving spots in California, from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s dive director
George Z. Peterson’s job as director of dive programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is — in his words — quite simple: “I’m there to get people stoked on the ocean.” No day is the same, says the 49-year-old Peterson, who has worked at the aquarium since 2003. He has brought more than 41,000 kids underwater through the aquarium’s youth dive program, keeps the glass of the massive tanks clean and sea creatures fed with help of more than 100 volunteer divers, and coordinates dives and safety procedures for the aquarium’s 50-plus scientists and research staff who dive for their work. Read more…

 

Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust: Fishermoms and women in commercial fishing

May 12, 2019

I’m happy to have been able to contribute to the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust’s recent newsletter on the important, yet all-too-often overlooked, contributions women have made throughout the history of Monterey Bay’s commercial fisheries. I also dive into why the term “fisherman” is still used when so many women fish and gendered terms are being taken out of common language.

The hidden history of women in Monterey Bay fisheries
Women have always played pivotal roles in the success of the commercial fishing industry, whether as cannery workers, fish cutters, biologists or business managers. Yet, their work has often been overlooked. To remedy this, we’ve taken a deep dive into the work of women in Monterey Bay fisheries, going back more than a century. And while there’s presently still work to be done before achieving gender equality on the water, supporting women within commercial fishing is easier than you might think. Read more…

Why do we still use the word “fisherman?”
There was a time in this country when women were largely excluded from working on boats and catching fish as their occupation. For generations, only men worked as fishermen. But times have changed and there are now more women on the water than ever, so why do we still use the term “fisherman” to describe the men and women who harvest fish?  We asked women who fish and write for a living what their preferred terms are. The answers may — or may not —surprise you. Read more…

San Francisco Chronicle: Monterey history told through pirates & cheese.

April 5, 2019

Monterey’s history as a Spanish, Mexican and United States capital of California is well documented and has become a cottage industry in the small city that hugs the Pacific Ocean. But there are a few stories clouded in mystery, or simply misunderstood for more than a century. Two of which I recently dug into for the San Francisco Chronicle, shedding light on two historical topics beloved by many—pirates and cheese.

California’s only ‘pirate’ raid in history was actually about independence
Volleys of cannon fire echoed through the adobes of Monterey, followed by a group of privateers storming the city from the sea with cannon, muskets and pikes. Eventually they pulled down the Spanish flag before hoisting up the blue-and-white stripes of Argentina under a Californian sky. Read more…

The competing legends of Monterey Jack cheese
The origin story of Monterey Jack cheese is complicated, no matter whom you ask or what version they tell you. It may encompass some or all of the following: a prosperous Mexican land-grant family fallen from grace, a shrewd Gold Rush land baron, the colonization of California’s Central Coast, and possibly a bullfight gone awry. Some historians believe its tendrils even extend to ancient Rome. This semisoft white cheese, homogenized and ubiquitous in dairy aisles across the U.S., carries with it the near entirety of California history dating to Spanish colonization. Read more…

 

San Francisco Chronicle: The intersection of people, politics, places and sports.

March 15, 2019

For some respite from a few years of writing about cops, crime, mayhem and disasters, I’ve started writing stories about the intersection of adventure sports, politics and history in the state of California.

Here are a few highlights of recent interviews: Chris Burkard, surf photographer who looked to the Arctic for inspiration; Jeremy Jones, a big mountain snowboarder-turned climate activist; and Frosty Hesson, an avuncular big-wave surfer who’d pioneered Mavericks and always ready to impart life-wisdom. Many more stories to come.

Surf photographer and SLO native Chris Burkard shares his favorite local spots
Chris Burkard has become synonymous with images of the icy landscapes and deadly cold waters of Alaska, Norway, Iceland and Russia, and his work is recognized beyond the surf world. In the 33-year-old’s short career, he has published eight books, directed four films, garnered more than a dozen awards, given a TED Talk, and gained 3.3 million followers on Instagram. Forbes named him a top social influencer in 2017. Read more…

Q&A: Jeremy Jones on why the outdoor industry needs to speak out about climate change
While hiking atop crusty springtime snow on a ridgeline in California’s John Muir Wilderness, pre-eminent big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones wondered whether or not his descent down the slope would be the last by anyone on skis or a snowboard because of lack of future snow. Read more…

Surfing legend Frosty Hesson’s guide to California’s most iconic breaks
Large statured and emblazoned with platinum-white hair, surfing icon Richard “Frosty” Hesson is often found standing near his home at the end of 36th Avenue in Santa Cruz, watching the swell come in, as he has for decades. He’s quick to strike up conversations with people passing by. His face might not be familiar, but his nickname is. Read more…

National Fisherman: California crab fishermen fight to save fishery after three-year spike in whale entanglements.

September 1, 2018

The future of California’s iconic Dungeness crab fishery seemed uncertain after a three-year spike in the number of whales entangled in fishing gear from 2015 to 2017. A warm-water blob, domoic acid and a coinciding of whale migrations and fishing caused by the delayed start of the Dungeness crab season spurred a record number of whales and other marine animals to become twisted in crab gear.

Few fisheries were spared entanglement issues on the Pacific Coast, but California Dungeness crab fishermen came under fire for their lines snaring the largest number of whales. Negative publicity, threats of a federal shutdown and a lawsuit in federal court made California crabbers fear the worst. But with ocean conditions returning in the direction of normal and state legislative effort looking to head off litigation, crab fishermen can breathe easier. Still, there’s no returning to the way things were.