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MendoCoastCurrent, March 11, 2011

Awakened this morning to a tsunami warning phone call on the landline from Sargent Barney warning of an impending tsunami to occur in just over half an hour at 7:23 a.m. He continued that it was due to a 9.0 earthquake in Japan hours earlier. Our coastal community is urgently called to prepare for a tsunami. At risk situations are at land elevations of 150 ft and below, especially low lying areas at & near river mouths here on the coast of northern California. The reverse-911 tsunami warning phone call suggested everyone go to higher ground immediately and it was 6:55am.

First action was to call a close neighbor without a land line suggesting we meet at our highest ground probably between 250-300 feet. Packing stuff I needed, making a pot of coffee, I am writing this post right now and it’s 9:17am.

I packed my car, went to highest ground here as suggested. Around 9am, a friend called to say the tsunami had been downgraded. The tsunami has passed (or so I believe right now). It was an excellent exercise.

Realized long after the early morning reverse-911 warning that the tsunami sirens were not sounded here on the coast.

A friend mentioned that a tsunami drill had been scheduled for March 11, not sure of the time.

Redheaded Blackbelt also has tsunami updates for Humboldt county ~ http://bit.ly/hspXcz

10:20 am: Here’s the NOAA Tsunami report ~

SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE EUREKA CA
1020 AM PST FRI MAR 11 2011
REDWOOD COAST-MENDOCINO COAST-
1020 AM PST FRI MAR 11 2011

...A TSUNAMI WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR DEL NORTE...HUMBOLDT
AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES COASTAL AREAS...

EARTHQUAKE DATA...
 PRELIMINARY MAGNITUDE 8.9.
 LOCATION 38.2 NORTH 142.5 EAST.
 NEAR EAST COAST OF HONSHU JAPAN.
 TIME 2146 PST MAR 10 2011.

A TSUNAMI WAS GENERATED AND HAS CAUSE DAMAGED ALONG THE DEL NORTE
COUNTY AND DAMAGE ALONG THE HUMBOLDT AND MENDOCINO COASTS IS
STILL EXPECTED. PERSONS AT THE COAST SHOULD BE ALERT TO
INSTRUCTIONS FROM LOCAL EMERGENCY OFFICIALS.

DAMAGING WAVES HAVE BEEN OBSERVED ACROSS HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
DAMAGING WAVES HAVE ARRIVED AT CRESCENT CITY HARBOR WHERE ALL
DOCKS HAVE BEEN DESTROYED. WAVES HAVE BROKEN OVER THE SPIT AT
STONE LAGOON. A 3 FOOT WAVE HAS BEEN REPORTED IN HUMBOLDT BAY. A
2-4 FOOT FLOOD WAVE WAS REPORTED MOVING UP THE MAD RIVER AT 8:45
AM PST. DAMAGING WAVES WILL CONTINUE FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL HOURS.

MEASUREMENTS OR REPORTS OF TSUNAMI WAVE ACTIVITY
GAUGE LOCATION        TIME      AMPLITUDE
CRESCENT CITY CA     844 AM       8.1FT
NORTH SPIT HUMBOLDT  830 AM       3.1FT
ARENA COVE           917 AM       5.3FT

REMEMBER...DONT BE FOOLED...TSUNAMI WAVES CAN SEEM STOP FOR LONG
PERIODS AND THEN BEGIN AGAIN. WAIT FOR THE OFFICIAL ALL CLEAR TO
RETURN TO THREATENED AREAS.

IN DEL NORTE COUNTY...PEOPLE ARE ORDERED TO EVACUATE TO ABOVE 9TH
STREET. SHELTER LOCATIONS INCLUDE SMITH RIVER ELEMENTARY...DEL NORTE
HIGH SCHOOL AND YUROK TRIBAL OFFICE IN KLAMATH.

IN HUMBOLDT AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES...PEOPLE ARE ADVISED TO STAY
OFF BEACHES...NOT TRAVEL BY WATERCRAFT AND EVACUATE LOW LYING
COASTAL AREAS IMMEDIATELY UNTIL ADVISED THAT IT IS SAFE TO RETURN.

PEOPLE SHOULD STAY CLEAR OF LOW LYING AREAS ALONG COASTAL RIVERS AS
TSUNAMI WAVES CAN TRAVEL UP FROM THE MOUTH OF COASTAL RIVERS.

BULLETINS WILL BE ISSUED HOURLY OR SOONER IF CONDITIONS WARRANT
TO KEEP YOU INFORMED OF THE PROGRESS OF THIS EVENT. IF AVAILABLE...
REFER TO THE INTERNET SITE HTTP://TSUNAMI.GOV FOR MORE INFORMATION.

DUE TO RAPIDLY CHANGING CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH TSUNAMI WAVE
ACTIVITY...LISTENERS ARE URGED TO TUNE TO LOCAL EMERGENCY ALERT
SYSTEM MEDIA FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION ISSUED BY LOCAL DISASTER
PREPAREDNESS AUTHORITIES. THEY WILL PROVIDE DETAILS ON THE
EVACUATION OF LOW-LYING AREAS...IF NECESSARY...AND WHEN IT IS SAFE
TO RETURN AFTER THE TSUNAMI HAS PASSED.
****************************************

It’s 4:44 pm March 11, 2011: Receive the reverse-911 phone call ‘canceling the tsunami warning’ on the coast.

****************************************

4:50pm March 11, 2011: Governor Brown “has ordered San Mateo, Del Norte, Humboldt and Santa Cruz counties to utilize state aid in handling local emergencies, and repairing “damage to ports, harbors and infrastructure” caused by the tsunami. ~ http://bit.ly/fQxMIl

March 15, 2011: Mendocino Town Seeks Aid for $4M Tsunami Damage ~ http://bit.ly/gWy090

Videos of today’s Japanese tsunami and the 8.9 earthquake ~

Video taken near Crescent City, CA morning of March 11, 2011 ~

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MICHAEL COLLINS, Ventura County Star, January 18, 2010

Americans’ insatiable love of seafood is back on the federal government’s plate.

Five years after former President George W. Bush’s administration first proposed allowing fish farming in federal waters, the Obama administration is set to come up with its own set of rules for offshore aquaculture, including deepwater fish farming.

The new rules, which are expected to spell out a permitting process for offshore aquaculture operations, could come as early as this summer, said Michael Rubino, manager of the aquaculture program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We’re looking at this whole question of aquaculture in federal waters — how to go about it,” Rubino said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has filed legislation that would establish a regulatory framework for aquaculture operations in federal waters, which begin three miles beyond the nation’s shores.

Capps’ proposal not only lays out the permitting process for offshore aquaculture facilities, but also contains environmental safeguards to see that any such projects pose a minimal risk to ocean ecology — a concern that derailed the Bush administration’s efforts.

“It is important to take a strong public health standard approach and make sure we have food safety and environmental protection as a basis for any kind of aquaculture project that would come up,” Capps said.

Ocean fish farming has long been seen by advocates as a way to guarantee a plentiful bounty of seafood even as a number of wild fish stocks decline. An estimated 80% of all edible seafood supplies in the United States is imported, and nearly half of all seafood is farmed, according to the San Diego-based Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

Right now, fish farming is limited to state waters, which begin at the shoreline and extend out for three miles.

In 2005, the Bush administration proposed allowing fish-farming operations up to 200 miles off the coast, which would have marked the first time such facilities would have been permitted in federal waters.

But that proposal, and subsequent plans, died in Congress in large part because of environmental concerns associated with fish farming, such as the discharge of waste and the use of pesticides, antibiotics and other potentially harmful chemicals.

Capps objected to the Bush plan because of the environmental issues and a belief that it was too closely tied to the fishing industry. “They wanted to go out of their way to see that industry was satisfied,” she said.

In contrast, the congresswoman’s aides say, her proposal offers a comprehensive policy that spells out the permitting process for aquaculture facilities while putting in place standards for environmental, public health and consumer protection.

Under the Capps plan, a special office to deal with offshore aquaculture would be established within the National Marine Fisheries Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

The office would be responsible for implementing the aquaculture permitting and regulatory program, as well as conducting environmental impact studies for each region of the country. The studies would determine which locations are appropriate for offshore aquaculture, the type of fish suitable for farming in each region and the impact such projects would have on other marine life.

Aquaculture permits would be good for 10 years and could be renewed for subsequent 10-year periods. Permit holders would be required to report fish escapes, the prevalence of disease and parasites and the use of any antibiotics, pesticides or other drugs and chemicals.

By putting in place a comprehensive regulatory framework, “It will be very clear to all of the stakeholders what the rules of the game are,” Capps said.

President of Hubbs-SeaWorld, said Capps’ bill would create “a regulatory jumble” because some of the safeguards it would put in place already are covered by other federal agencies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, for example, already regulate the use of antibiotics, he said.

The additional requirements would be so cumbersome that, if the proposal were to become law as written, “there won’t be an (aquaculture) industry in federal waters in the United States,” he said. “I won’t do it under the existing bill.’’

Hubbs-SeaWorld had wanted several years ago to set up an experimental fish farm on Platform Grace — an old oil rig about 10 miles off the coast of Ventura County — to raise California yellowtail, bluefin tuna and striped bass. The project eventually was abandoned, however.

The research institute also has put on hold plans for a commercial fish farm five miles off the San Diego coast in light of the Obama administration’s announcement that it is developing an aquaculture policy.

Capps’ office responded to his concerns by saying the congresswoman’s proposal attempts to legislate “a common sense national framework for aquaculture” and that it is the result of a collaboration with environmental and consumer groups, the scientific community, the aquaculture industry and others.

The congresswoman will continue to work with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, said her spokeswoman, Emily Spain.

Rubino said NOAA has no comment on the Capps proposal, other than to reiterate that the administration prefers a national approach to aquaculture instead of a region by region approach.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, December 24, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

The California State Lands Commission last week found its own regulations designed to protect marine mammals so inconsistent and confusing as to be unenforceable.

That was good news for Fugro Pelagos, owner of the 176-foot survey vessel Pacific Star that reported it fatally struck a female blue whale on Oct. 19.

“On behalf of all of us at Fugro Pelagos, we thank … the California State Lands Commission (SLC) for assessing the facts of the matter and deciding not to revoke our offshore geophysical survey permit. In making such a decision, they recognized that language of the current permit is unclear and could be subject to interpretation,” said Fugro Company President David Millar, in a statement issued after the meeting.

State Lands Commission staff had recommended that the company’s permit be yanked and that Fugro pay $13,000 for staff investigatory expenses.

Instead, the commission hashed out an agreement by which the company now agrees to follow the conditions of the permit — as the commission wrongly believed had been happening all along.

“It is now clear that the California State Lands Commission considers hydrographic surveying using only an echo sounder to be an activity covered by the offshore geophysical survey permit. Fugro Pelagos has agreed to comply with this interpretation on the basis that all other permit holders will receive written notification of the State’s position and that the State will work with Fugro Pelagos and other stakeholders in reviewing and modifying the current permit language so that there can be no future misunderstandings about what activities are and are not covered by the offshore geophysical survey permit,” Millar stated.

The whale bled to death in about half an hour, washing up just south of Fort Bragg.

The entire matter is a gigantic “I told you so” for Steve Sullivan, who has been criticizing these very regulations for being confusing and widely ignored.

Sullivan owns a Fugro rival surveying company. He has harped at state authorities for about five years, saying others should be made to do what his company does, including always having a marine mammal observer on deck and employing a spotter boat.

Sullivan had predicted catastrophe for marine mammals unless regulations became consistent. Prior to the Oct. 19 whale strike, Sullivan not only criticized Fugro, but also state and university agencies for ignoring the regulations designed to protect marine mammals.

At last Thursday’s meeting, the State Lands Commission set out to demand those agencies and Fugro all now follow consistent rules.

Sullivan’s pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears at the State Lands Commission and the Ocean Protection Council. In fact when Sullivan contended following the whale strike that Fugro was operating without a permit, state and federal officials had vociferously refuted Sullivan’s contention.

But technically, Sullivan was right. Fugro never finalized a marine mammal plan required by the permit because they felt it did not apply to any of the work they were doing. Yet, the company kept renewing the incomplete (and thus theoretically invalid) permit, all a demonstration of how meaningless and unintelligible the permit process was.

The marine mammal plan, had it been prepared, would be expected to contain measures that might or might not prevent whale strikes.

Fugro has consistently maintained that the whale killing would likely have happened even if there had been a NOAA-certified marine mammal observer on deck.

“During the hearing, it was noted that State scientists considered this tragic accident unavoidable, and not the result of Fugro Pelagos not following survey permit conditions,” Millar said.

“Nevertheless, we were deeply saddened by it. In the decades that the company has been in existence, no incident of this type has ever occurred and we acknowledge the loss that comes with the death of such a large and precious marine animal,” Millar said.

Fugro will carry a marine wildlife monitor in the future. Perhaps more importantly, State Lands has launched a process designed to standardize all permits and require more measures to protect marine mammals, as the permitting process originally intended.

At one point, state officials were working on a plan for better protections of marine mammals, but that effort collapsed due to the state budget crisis.

“I am very pleased that the State Lands Commission has finally required the multi-billion dollar international firm, Fugro, to abide by the same regulations to protect marine mammals that us small California survey companies have complied with for years,” Sullivan said in a statement after the meeting.

“At their meeting on Dec. 17, the State Lands Commission disclosed that Fugro and a new permit applicant, the California State University at Monterey Bay, have for years been conducting marine surveys without compliance with regulations to protect marine mammals,” Sullivan said.

A community effort stripped the whale of its flesh and buried the skeleton so it can be dug up later and displayed.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Mendocino Beacon, December 17, 2009

The Obama administration has launched a new “zoning” approach that puts all ocean activities under the umbrella of nine regional planning bodies.

Public comments are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 12.

The approach is more local and integrated than the current strategy, which puts separate functions under different federal agencies. But it remains to be seen how such a plan can satisfy a plethora of federal laws that now protect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

The issue of whales killed by ships (like the blue whale kill in October off Fort Bragg) is cited in the new report as an example of how the regional planning approach could solve problems that single agencies cannot.

In the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Boston, the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several other government agencies and stakeholders reconfigured the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme, after numerous fatal collisions between marine mammals and ships.

This kind of joint action is what the new Obama approach anticipates using nationwide.

The reconfigured shipping lanes reduced risk of collision by an estimated 81% for all baleen whales and 58% for endangered right whales, studies show.

NOAA is the lone federal agency dealing with the whale kill issue locally, working with two state agencies, which have regulations that are inconsistent. With the Fort Bragg incident highlighting weaknesses in the regulatory process, a regional board could propose solutions.

In another example of oversight conflict, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) planned and launched a policy for wave energy leasing completely without local governments’ knowledge. Other federal agencies also bombarded FERC with criticism and problems their federal fellow had failed to anticipate when FERC’s program came to light.

The Obama administration’s idea is to bring all the federal and local agencies to the table at the planning stage, not the reactive stage.

“The uses of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes have expanded exponentially over time,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who also heads the Ocean Policy Task Force. “At the same time they are facing environmental challenges, including pollution and habitat destruction, that make them increasingly vulnerable.

“Without an improved, more thoughtful approach, we risk an increase in user conflicts and the potential loss of critical economic, ecosystem, social, and cultural benefits for present and future generations,” said Sutley, in a press release.

Many scientific studies have called for ocean zoning, but this is the first effort to make the idea work.

California, Oregon and Washington would be included in a single planning area The participants in the planning process, such as Indian tribes, federal agencies, states and local entities, would be asked to sign a contract modeled on development agreements.

Development agreements are widely used by housing developers to bring all county and state permitting agencies to the table so they can get loans and prepare to launch a project.

Sutley said the administration will reconvene the National Ocean Council to work with the regional planning bodies.

While the new approach promises more locally responsive planning, the job of the National Ocean Council will be to ensure that planning is consistent from region to region. That is likely to create some conflicts with monied interests representing some uses, such as oil drilling, and leave other uses with less ability to advocate at the table.

The proposal comes from the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, established by President Obama on June 12. It is led by Sutley and consists of 24 senior-level officials from administration agencies, departments and offices.

The task force’s interim framework is available for a 60-day public review and comment period. After the close of the comment period, the task force will finalize its recommendations in both this report and the Sept. 10 interim report and provide a final report to the President in early 2010.

For more details on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, including the interim framework, and to submit comments, visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, November 27, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

California’s regulatory system, designed to protect whales from science vessels will get some rethinking, following controversy over the October 19, 2009 death of a blue whale off Fort Bragg, a state official said.

The incident has highlighted an inconsistent and controversial regulatory system for which change was blocked by funding cuts due to the state budget crisis.

When the survey vessel Pacific Star struck the whale, it did not have a federally-approved whale spotter on board as required by the terms of its permit that this newspaper obtained from the California State Lands Commission.

Ship owner Fugro Pelagos, Inc. says both they had a valid permit and that they didn’t need one for the mapping being done when the whale was killed.

“There was no official whale observer on board because the work that was being done at the time did not require it,” said said James Hailstones of Fugro Pelagos. However, it contradicts a previous statement where he said an observer was present, as is required on all commercial vessels.

“The permit to which you refer pertains specifically to geophysical surveys, defined by state regulations as operations that measure and record physical properties of subsurface geologic structures,” said Hailstones.

“These are usually associated with mineral exploration and underwater resource development, and require higher-powered equipment than those aboard the Pacific Star. Instead, the vessel was conducting hydrographic survey work that is designed to simply measure the water depth above sea floor’s surface,” Hailstones said.

The permit states that Fugro is required to have “at least one person on board during survey operations that is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved marine wildlife monitor,…” during geophysical work.

A review of the permit confirms that it does apply to geophysical work as described by Hailstones and raises questions as to the efficiency of the regulation system.

Fugro, the largest company in the business the permit was created for, has never found a situation where the permit was needed. As evidence of that, the State Lands Commission permit demands a marine wildlife contingency plan be filed, which specifies information about interactions with marine mammals and reptiles. That plan has been completed but not filed because it isn’t needed, according to the current rules.

“A draft plan exists and is ready for use when we perform a geophysical survey. However, a tailored plan was not filed because there is no requirement to do so for the work that was being conducted,” Hailstones said.

Controversy over the incident and the permit has been stirred by Steve Sullivan, whose family operates Sea Surveyor, Inc., which competes with the larger Fugro Pelagos for surveying contracts. He says the permit was intended to apply to all types of mapping and surveying work.

Sullivan has been predicting for several years that lax and inconsistent regulation would lead to whale kills, state records show.

In interviews and letters broadcast on local radio and the Internet, Sullivan claimed that Fugro didn’t have a permit when it struck the whale.

This was refuted by Sheila Semans, a staff member of the Ocean Protection Council through the California Coastal Conservancy.

“[Fugro] did have a valid geophysical permit. I am told by the company that they have had a geophysical permit since they were required. What Mr. Sullivan fails to point out is that the permit that was issued on October 22, 2009 was effective starting Oct. 1, 2009,” Semans said.

She went on to explain that the permit was issued retroactively because of a series of delays, that were not the fault of Fugro.

Hailstones said the company had a permit issued October 1st, which was not issued retroactively.

How the work Pacific Star was doing at the time of the whale strike may or may not fit into the intent of the permit is a topic in an investigation into the whale strike by NOAA.

Scientists generally believe that the kind of sonar the Pacific Star was using isn’t harmful to whales and some believe they can’t even hear it. However, all say more study is needed.

One study says whales, which can hear for long distances, are becoming confused due to the increasing noise level in the oceans caused by all human activity.

Publicity following the death of the blue whale may revive efforts killed by the state budget crisis to clarify and expand permits and the understanding of the effects of all types of sonar on whales.

“Because of the confusion and disagreement about what the geophysical permit should cover, State Lands has asked [ the Ocean Protection Council] to fund further investigation into any potential impacts from passive equipment’ such as the sonar use for seafloor mapping,” Semans said.

“We have not been able to fund any new projects since December 2008 so discussions have stopped. But I’d imagine this incident will resurrect those discussions once we can spend money again,” she said.

Sullivan argues that the permit was required when the strike happened but says there is a larger issue.

“That’s just paperwork, my main complaint for the past few years is they and others up and down the coast are not taking the precautions needed and required to protect marine mammals,” he said

Sullivan says the Department of Fish and Game itself, along with study vessels operated by universities, operate such surveys without following permits and without complying with regulations designed to protect marine mammals.

He says he first confronted the State Lands Commission, then found that body had no meaningful enforcement power. Recently, he appeared before the Ocean Protection Council in an effort to cut funding to the efforts until marine mammal concerns could be met, a meeting video shows.

Sullivan said that because of the way modern hydrography works, those involved are using only a narrow beam of sonar, which would be unlikely to detect whales.

“The captain is not looking out the window anymore. That’s why you need the special spotters. You don’t see a whale unless you are looking for them,” Sullivan said.

Hailstones said Fugro keeps an eye out for whales, along with other marine hazards.

“Personnel onboard the bridge of the Pacific Star are always on watch for dangers to navigation, other vessels, crab and lobster pot buoys and marine mammals and obviously try to avoid such incidents,” said Hailstones.

The 176-foot Pacific Star completed its mapping work for the state and is now back in drydock in Seattle, Hailstones said.

Sullivan thinks the size of the vessel may have been a contributing cause to the whale strike. He said the work only requires a 50-foot vessel and says use of such a large ship in whale migratory waters is irresponsible. He said a larger ship makes it much harder to see whales and more likely for a strike to be fatal.

“Being experts in our field, we utilize the correct vessel for the application,” Hailstones said.

“The Pacific Star is similar in size to others used in safely conducting offshore and coastal hydrographic surveys. Much larger vessels than the Pacific Star sail California waters every day and do so at far greater speeds than the 6.5 miles per hour the Pacific Star was doing at the time of the incident,” Hailstones said.

Hailstones said the whale apparently surfaced under the propellers in the rear section of the boat and was not struck by the bow.

Sullivan says the propellers of his survey vessels are protected by screens that would keep them from inflicting a fatal wound should there ever be a whale strike.

“The Pacific Star — like 99.9% of the world’s ships — does not have screens surrounding their screws,” said Hailstones.

“Not only would this be impractical to retrofit for the majority of vessels, but the possible negative consequences far outweigh the positives,” Hailstones said. “Screens would offer a large surface area for marine growth to flourish or even water borne garbage to accumulate, it wouldn’t be long before a vessel’s ability to make way would be severely hampered as a screw relies on the ability of large volumes of water to pass by unobstructed.”

Hailstones said the greatest nemesis for a vessel propeller is rope in the water.

“A screen would pose a great catch’ mechanism for rope and often, when rope gets caught in a vessel screw, the vessel is dead in the water, which poses a great risk to the human life onboard,” Hailstones said

One thing Hailstones and Sullivan agree on is that this incident is a first time in anyone’s memory that a survey vessel has reported striking and killing a whale.

“Our company and our sister companies utilize hundreds of vessels in thousands of miles of oceans and seas worldwide to conduct such operations, and are proud of our long-standing safety record. In the company’s 45-year history, Fugro (including Fugro Pelagos) has never been involved in such an unfortunate incident before,” Hailstones said.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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MARK CLAYTON, The Christian Science Monitor, September 17, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoWith demands on US ocean resources control growing quickly, the Obama administration today outlined a new comprehensive ocean management plan to guide federal agencies in restoring and protecting a badly stressed US coastal and ocean environment.

Today’s policy shift proposed by the president’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force holds enormous potential for sweeping changes in how the nation’s oceans are managed, including energy development, experts say.

At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic “ecosystem-based” approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development — from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation.

The proposal would include “a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach to using managing and conserving ocean resources,” Nancy Sutley, chairman of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality told reporters in a teleconference unveiling the plan. It would also set up “a comprehensive national approach to uphold our stewardship responsibilities and ensure accountability for our actions.”

Dr. Sutley, who also chaired the interagency task force, appeared alongside representatives from the Department of Interior, the Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the proposal would apply to 24 agencies.

“This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any president in US history,” Sarah Chasis, director of the ocean initiative at Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in her blog. She called it the “most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen.”

The changes could affect new offshore wind energy proposals as well as oil and natural gas exploration. “We haven’t fully looked at all aspects of the report,” says Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “The one concern we have is we don’t want to stop the momentum of offshore wind projects we’re already seeing. So while we’re certainly not opposed to marine spatial planning, we would like to see projects already in the pipeline move ahead and start getting some offshore projects going in the US.”

One senior official of the American Petroleum Institute said he had not yet seen the proposal and could not comment on it.

The new push comes at a time when major decisions will be needed about whether and how to explore or develop oil and gas in now-thawing areas of the Arctic Ocean near Alaska. Policy changes could also affect deep-water regions in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the siting of wave power and renewable offshore wind turbines off the East Coast.

At the same time, desalination plants, offshore aquaculture, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals are clamoring for space along coastal areas where existing requirements by commercial shipping and commercial fishing are already in place.

All of that – set against a backdrop of existing and continuing damage to fisheries, coral, coastal wetlands, beaches, and deteriorating water quality – has America’s oceans “in crisis,” in the words of a landmark Pew Oceans Commission report issued in 2003. More than 20,000 acres of wetlands and other sensitive habitat disappear annually, while nutrient runoff creates “dead zones” and harmful algal blooms. Some 30% of US fish populations are overfished or fished unsustainably, the report found.

Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force’s national objectives were:

  1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
  2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
  3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
  4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
  5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.

Experts said that the new, unified policy was timely, after decades of hit-or-miss development policies.

“We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn’t been sufficient.” says Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire and an adviser to the president’s ocean task force.”This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons.”

The new proposal won’t be finalized until next year, after a 30-day comment period that begins now. Still, environmentalists were quick to hail the plan as a critical and timely step to begin healing disintegrating environmental conditions in US coastal waters and in the US exclusive economic zone that extends 200 miles beyond its territorial waters.

In June, President Obama set up the commission to develop: “a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies.”

It must also, he wrote, “preserve our maritime heritage, provides for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change, and is coordinated with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

“It’s the first time the federal government has put out a decent paper that proposes what a national policy and attitude toward our oceans should be,” says Christopher Mann, senior officer Pew Environment Group, the environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust.

In one of the more telling passages buried down in its interim report, the task force called for decisions guided by “best available science” as well as a “precautionary approach” that reflects the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states: “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environment degradation.”

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