Charting a Course for Salmon Recovery

Robust annual salmon migrations have long been a sign of a healthy Pacific ecosystem. Today, sadly, wild salmon and steelhead populations in California are threatened with extinction. The OPC is currently exploring how to fill critical policy and funding gaps to help protect this iconic species for centuries to come.thomas.dunklin

During the mid 19th century, the large numbers of salmon returning to their spawning grounds was so legendary that gold miners wrote letters home about ‘walking across the backs of salmon’ to traverse rivers. But this is no longer the case. The West Coast commercial salmon fishery was closed in 2008 and again in 2009 due to record low returns of the fall run Chinook salmon to the Sacramento River. Scientists have stated that approximately 60,000 Chinook salmon reached the Sacramento area to spawn this year compared with 800,000 in 2002.

The reasons for the collapse of the salmon stocks are varied and not without a high level of controversy. The main factors for the rapid decline in salmon populations include: barriers to fish passage (e.g., dams, roads and water diversions), water pollution, historic over fishing, varied ocean conditions, invasive species, climate change, and habitat destruction (e.g., logging and development). These cumulative impacts have led to a substantial loss of salmon stocks throughout the West Coast over the past 150 years.

The OPC supports a variety of projects and studies to elucidate what actions it and other state agencies should take to develop more robust policies that protect and safeguard the last remaining wild stocks of salmonids in California. In particular, the OPC is currently funding three instream flow studies in coordination with the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to develop minimum flow requirements needed to maintain critical habitat for salmonids living in the Shasta, Big Sur, and Santa Maria rivers. This information will be provided to the State Water Resource Control Board, along with necessary background information, to develop flow recommendations for each of these rivers.

The OPC is also working with Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration (CEMAR) on the Southern Steelhead Resources Project to prioritize watersheds for restoration projects south of the Golden Gate Bridge that have the greatest potential to restore native populations of steelhead. The results are intended to guide decision making by agencies, local jurisdictions, watershed groups, funders, and others by establishing a set of short-term restoration activities intended to conserve the greatest amount of existing steelhead habitat in the most efficient manner. In a related effort, Ecotrust has developed a report, that synthesizes current and historic salmon population statistics, discusses causes of decline in salmon abundance, and identifies key watersheds that are home to the last remaining wild salmon stocks in California. The report collects recommendations from numerous other reports and prioritizes them according to the top three contemporary factors of decline: land use, dams, and water diversion.

Salmon issues were also included as an OPC research priority for 2009, which led to the council’s decision to fund the research project “The Future of the California Salmon Fishery: Roles of Climate Variation, Habitat Restoration, Hatchery Practices, and Biocomplexity” as part of the Focused Research and Outreach Initiative. This study focuses on the impacts of climate variation, habitat restoration, and hatchery practices on the Klamath River and Central Valley salmon runs and will examine the oceanic component of the salmon life cycle. This research will result in a better understanding about which mitigation actions (such as hatchery practices, habitat restoration, control of freshwater flow rates) will have the greatest impact for stock recovery. The 14-person interdisciplinary team includes oceanographers, fishery stock assessment scientists, ecologists, geneticists, and economists and is lead by NOAA Fisheries.

Broadly, the OPC is working to promote increased coordination and data sharing among existing state and federal agencies working on salmonid issues. The OPC is interested in supporting key projects that help restore native populations of salmon across California and ensure that our restoration dollars are directed towards activities that will provide the greatest outcome in terms of protecting this valuable species.

SalmonStix.webRelated Resources or Other Documents:

Preserving California’s Fisheries

Preserving California's Fisheries.webThe waters off California’s coastline boast some of the most productive fisheries in the world, and as a result, the state is defined by its rich fishing heritage. The OPC is committed to preserving and restoring California’s valuable fisheries and the communities and people that depend on them.

California’s fisheries are faced with many threats including pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing, and climate change. Each of these challenges can contribute to declines in fish numbers and changes in distribution that in turn threaten fisheries and associated businesses. Pursing innovative policies and projects to help restore and promote our fisheries is a top priority for the OPC. The OPC views its mandate as an opportunity to address the underlying problems facing California’s fisheries, not just the symptoms.

The OPC is working to improve fisheries management throughout California by pursuing innovative community-based or cooperative management and supporting further implementation of the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). The Marine Life Management Act Lessons Learned Study is an ongoing study being led by a six-member team to evaluate the successes and challenges of the implementation of the MLMA. The evaluation will provide recommendations to assist future MLMA efforts by the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and California Fish and Game Commission (Commission). The Collaborative Fisheries Research (CFR) Organization will be a venue for commercial and recreational fishermen, academic scientists, coastal managers, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and funders to discuss and prioritize existing and emerging fisheries management data needs. Once established, the CFR Organization will also provide grant funding to support collaborative research projects that address these needs.

A primary focus of the OPC is to provide grant funding that directly supports fishermen, communities, and businesses that are willing to investigate and pursue new management approaches. In 2009, the OPC released the California Fisheries Challenge, a competitive grant program that offers fishermen and communities in the state an opportunity to submit proposals that will improve and sustain long-term fishery health and sustainability. The California Fisheries Fund is another innovative undertaking that offers loans to California fishing communities, groups, associations, and businesses to assist in transitioning to more environmentally and economically sustainable fishing practices and governance. This is particularly important when conventional investment capital or loans from traditional financial institutions may not be available. The first loans and lines of credit from the California Fisheries Fund were distributed to a fisherman, a dockside fish buyer, and a distribution company from the Central Coast in 2009.

Much of the OPC’s fishery work is also aimed at partnering with DFG to more fully achieve its mandate. In 2006, the OPC and DFG developed the Joint Workplan, which included a wide variety of projects funded through an $8 million appropriation. These projects focus on collecting and analyzing essential data to apply to the decision-making process and improving DFG vessels and equipment. The data collected pertains to marine ecology, essential habitats, species interactions, natural processes that affect fish populations, survey techniques, and data report methods.

The OPC tackles important fisheries issues by working with a wide range of stakeholders including commercial and recreation fishermen, state and federal fisheries managers (California Department of Fish and Game, the California Fish and Game Commission, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), NGOs, academia, tribes, and others.

Related Projects

  • Central Coast Groundfish Project
  • Dungeness Crab Task Force
  • Morro Bay Ecosystem-based Management Program
  • Moss Landing Sustainable Fishing Feasibility Study
  • San Diego Sea Urchin Fishery Project: A Model for Community Involvement in Science-based Management and Value-added Marketing
  • San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Sustainable Seafood Market
  • Transitioning San Luis Obispo County Harbors and Commercial Fisheries to a Sustainable Future

Mapping California’s Resources

The coastal area of California is diverse, ranging from towering coastal bluffs to dense urban development and rolling pastoral lands. Immediately offshore, the underwater topography is equally varied with deep canyons, seamounts, and small shelves extending from the shoreline. The OPC is promoting efficient management of these land and marine environs by providing detailed surveys using modern technologies and sharing existing data.

mappingMapping and spatial data analyses are essential to ensuring the coastal area is understood and effectively utilized. California’s coastal region is home to numerous existing and proposed industrial activities, such as shipping, fishing, dredging, and energy development. Yet these areas also support varied recreational and conservation opportunities. Nearshore water quality is affected by runoff from coastal communities and agricultural practices; habitat and migratory patterns are disturbed by development and commercial activities; and sea level rise and climate change impacts will change the coast as we know it. With such a myriad of interests, uses, and potential impacts, the OPC is taking a leading role to record the coastal area and ensure important geospatial data are available to resource agencies.

The objective of the OPC is to modernize and consolidate geospatial information about this critical region and make it usable for coastal managers who need to assess cumulative impacts, competing interests, and permitting and planning decisions.

The OPC has three major initiatives under way to achieve this objective: the California Seafloor Mapping Project (CSMP), the terrestrial mapping program, and the Collaborative Geospatial Data Management Effort (CGDME).

  • Initiated in 2008, the CSMP is collecting high-resolution bathymetry, or underwater maps, using state-of-the-art multibeam sonar technology. Simultaneously, sidescan sonar captures backscatter data, providing insight into the geologic makeup of the seafloor. Together these data will be used to create habitat and geologic base maps for all of California’s state waters (mean high water line out to three nautical miles).
  • The terrestrial mapping program, currently under development, aims to produce high-resolution topography data from Oregon to Mexico, extending from the shoreline up to the 10 m topographic contour, using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technologies. In addition, high-resolution orthoimagery will provide photographic data in the same regions.
  • The CGDME was started in 2009 to identify and promote sharing of datasets needed by the numerous state agencies with coastal and ocean interests, such as the Department of Fish and Game, the California Coastal Commission, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the State Lands Commission, and California State Parks. Datasets from federal agencies may also be incorporated into an interactive and accessible tool or framework designed to provide relevant data to resource managers, scientists, and the public for improved decision-making.

Integrating these three initiatives is a long-term goal. The topographic mapping data can be merged with the seafloor mapping data to produce a seamless onshore-offshore map that would greatly enhance the understanding and management of the coastal area. This modern high-resolution map can form the baseline map of any coastal geospatial decision-support tool. Following this integration, the OPC and California will be better prepared to:

  • Better understand and mitigate the impacts from sea level rise
  • Evaluate sites for renewable ocean energy and aquaculture projects
  • Better understand sediment transport and sand delivery
  • Ensure vessel safety
  • Help identify tectonic faults and fault dynamics
  • Forecast storm inundation and coastal erosion
  • Better understand coastal earthquakes and tsunami potential
  • More effectively regulate offshore coastal development
  • Contribute to the federal process of Marine Spatial Planning
  • Quantify cumulative impacts for different activities in the same location
  • Identify key habitats that should be prioritize for protection

For example, the OPC funded a study to project inundation and erosion impacts from future sea level rise; however, the mapping data available for this project was less than optimal. In the future, such data will be readily available to anyone and will set the stage for a better understanding of our coastal and marine environment and how humans interact with this landscape.

Promoting Applied Research

Solving complex ocean resource problems requires scientific understanding of how ocean and coastal ecosystems function. The OPC strives to bridge the gaps between scientists, the public, and resource managers by supporting applied scientific research and the translation of data into usable information.

applied.vtThe OPC integrates and utilizes existing scientific information in many ways. Working with the Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), the OPC ensures that the best available science is applied to OPC policy decisions.  The OPC-SAT is coordinated by the California Ocean Science Trust (OST) and co-chaired by the OST Executive Director. One of the OPC-SAT’s fundamental functions is evaluating the technical merit of scientific projects by suggesting experts to serve as peer reviewers for OPC proposals and products. In coordination with OPC staff, the OPC-SAT also develops yearly research priorities.  Finally, to keep the OPC at the cutting edge of ocean and coastal research, the OPC-SAT identifies critical emerging science issues for OPC consideration, which are used by the council to inform future meeting themes, projects, and workshops.

To support new science, the OPC funds applied ocean research projects that correspond to the priorities proposed by the OPC-SAT. These research projects are solicited and chosen in partnership with the UC Sea Grant program and USC Sea Grant Program in California. Recent years have seen the development of an innovative funding approach: the Focused Research and Outreach Initiative. The goal is to promote well-coordinated, interdisciplinary programs of applied research and training focusing on a priority research topic. The research funded through the Sea Grant programs includes projects on international ecosystem-based management of fishery resources in the Southern California Bight, groundfish assemblages on offshore petroleum platforms on the San Pedro Shelf, and the impacts of ocean acidification on economically important shellfish species.

Related Projects

  • California Ocean Science Trust Science Integration
  • Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Enterprise

Stopping the Spread of Invasive Species

399px-Zebra_mussel_GLERL_3California’s coastal, estuarine and marine habits are quickly becoming degraded by the influx of aquatic invasive species (AIS).  These non-native species negatively impact natural ecosystems, fisheries, infrastructure, water delivery and flood protection systems, human health, and California’s economy. The OPC is working with numerous partners to prevent new introductions of AIS and improve the state’s ability to detect new introductions and respond to them quickly.  

AIS threaten the diversity or abundance of native species through competition for resources, predation, parasitism, interbreeding with native populations and transmittal of diseases. They can also cause physical or chemical changes to the invaded habitat – such impacts are also exacerbated with the onset of climate change. Through their impacts on natural ecosystems, water delivery, and flood protection systems, AIS may also negatively affect human health and the economy.

The tiny young of invasive shellfish or a fragment of an aquatic weed can be enough to start off a population that could ultimately become a multi-million dollar headache for California. However, these populations do not grow from a few individuals to damaging levels overnight, and if populations are detected early enough, there is the possibility that they can be eliminated before they cause damage and population control costs. Early detection and rapid response are the most effective and cost efficient responses to invasive species, after prevention.

In 2005, the OPC provided funding and staffing to complete the California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan. The OPC is now working with state agencies on implementing the plan, which identifies the actions that need to be taken to minimize the harmful environmental, economic, and human health impacts of AIS in California. In particular, the OPC has provided funding for the Vector Risk Assessment Studies that will examine the top six introduction pathways for AIS that currently lack robust management programs, (e.g., recreational boats and aquariums) and will provide recommendations for how to eliminate or reduce these types of introductions.  The OPC is also working with the California Research Bureau to examine current gaps in state law that could be addressed to more comprehensively manage AIS in the future.

The OPC, in coordination with the Department of Fish and Game and other agencies, has also established a California Agency AIS Team (CAAIST) dedicated to implementing the state plan and to improving California’s approach to reducing AIS introductions and detecting and responding to those that are introduced. One of the priority actions of the CAAIST is to develop a statewide approach to early detection. In a related effort, the OPC is working with the OPC Science Advisory Team to conduct a review of the monitoring and early detection programs for coastal AIS in California, with the goal of finding ways to improve early detection for different pathways of introductions of AIS.

If these core actions can be accomplished, it will provide a basis for pursuing additional AIS management priorities highlighted in the AIS plan.

OPC Meeting Summary


Meeting Summary


November 30, 2009

10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Scripps Seaside Forum
8610 Kennel Way (formerly Discovery Way)
La Jolla, CA


Council Members in Attendance:

Mike Chrisman, Secretary for Natural Resources, Council Chair                                    
Linda Adams, Secretary for Environmental Protection
John Chiang, State Controller, Chair of the State Lands Commission
Susan Golding, Public Member
Geraldine Knatz, Public Member
Fran Pavley, State Senator

1.    Secretary Chrisman welcomed attendees to the meeting and introduced the council members. He recognized the new role of Dr. Amber Mace as Executive Director of the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) and Assistant Secretary at the Natural Resources Agency. Secretary Chrisman discussed the ongoing work of the Federal Ocean Policy Task Force and announced that council staff has continued to work with the Task Force on the issue of marine spatial planning.  Secretary Chrisman also mentioned that Assistant Secretary Brian Baird testified at a legislative hearing on marine debris in September. An announcement was made that the California and the World Ocean Conference 2010 will be held September 7-10, 2010 and that the annual meeting of the OPC Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT) will be held December 1, 2009.

Secretary Chrisman introduced Dr. Tony Haymet, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Haymet provided a welcome address to the council and attendees. Brian Baird, Assistant Secretary for Ocean and Coastal Policy, took a moment to highlight Dr. Haymet’s work on a panel that discussed climate implications for the world’s oceans at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit II.


2.  Public comment on non-agenda items:

  • Reed Addis – Ocean Conservancy – Encouraged the council to use state legislation (AB 201) and the marine aquaculture programmatic environmental impact report (being funded by OPC) as a starting point to make recommendations on a national aquaculture policy or federal legislation.
  • Peter Halmay – Commercial fisherman in San Diego – Thanked the council for its support of San Diego fisheries and expressed an interest in continuing that great partnership.
  • Craig Shuman – California Fish and Game Commission – Thanked council members for their support of the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA) Lessons Learned Study and for staff’s participation in the Marine Resources Committee. 


3.  Dr. Amber Mace presented the report from of the Executive Director, which included an announcement regarding the OPC external evaluation, the status of the California Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, and the release of the report from the Collaborative Geospatial Information and Tools for California Coastal and Ocean Managers workshop. Dr. Mace also shared that she looks forward to working with the OPC in her new role as Executive Director and that she intends to convene the OPC steering committee sometime in early 2010.


4.  Sam Schuchat presented the report of the Council Secretary in which he discussed the status of the California Dungeness Crab Task Force, the expected release date of the final version of the aquaculture programmatic environmental impact report, the recent blue whale strike, the Marine Life Management Act Lessons Learned report, and the current OPC budget.

It was moved (Adams) and seconded (Golding) to approve the proposed 2010 OPC meeting schedule with the caveat that the November 4, 2010 meeting date may be changed in the future to accommodate a scheduling conflict.

APPROVEDAyes:   Adams, Chiang, Chrisman, Golding, Knatz     Nays: 0

It was moved (Golding) and seconded (Knatz) to approve the amended OPC Conflict of Interest Code.

APPROVEDAyes:   Adams, Chiang, Chrisman, Golding, Knatz     Nays: 0


5.   Steve Weisberg, Acting OPC Science Advisor, provided the report from the Science Advisor. Dr. Weisberg highlighted the role of the Ocean Science Trust and Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team in formulating that day’s meeting. He also announced that the second OPC-SAT meeting would take place on December 1, at which the SAT will identify critical and emerging science issues, and reviewed the oil decommissioning hearing that took place October 28, 2009. 

Dr. Amber Mace thanked Dr. Weisberg for agreeing to take on the role of Acting OPC Science Advisor.  


6.  Dr. Cheri Recchia, MPA Monitoring Enterprise, provided a presentation of the Draft North Central Coast Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Plan and the North Central Coast Baseline Monitoring project.

Public Comment:

  • Reid Addis – Ocean Conservancy – Spoke in support of the plan and continued funding for the MLPA.


7.  It was moved (Golding) and seconded by (Chiang) to concur with the proposed grant awards for the University of California Sea Grant and University of Southern California Sea Grant programs for 2010.

Doug George, Project Manager

APPROVED Ayes: Adams, Chiang, Chrisman, Golding, Knatz     Nays:   0


8.    Bill Sydeman, Farallon Institute, presented Wrong Time, Wrong Place: Recent Mismatches in Prey Availability to Seabirds and Salmon.

Chris Cohen, Southern California Ocean Observing System, provided a follow-up presentation where he discussed the efforts of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCOOS), the Central and Northern Coastal Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS), and their Joint Strategic Advisory Committee.


9.  Brian Baird highlighted the Thank You Ocean Campaign’s new public service announcement, featuring actor and activist Edward James Olmos, and the launch of the Spanish version of the Thank You Ocean Web site.


10.  Doug George, Project Manager, introduced the panel on Toxins and Marine Debris: Addressing Contaminants in the Ocean and each of the speakers.

  • Maziar Movassaghi, Department of Toxic Substances Control
  • Margy Gassel, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment
  • Jonathon Bishop, State Water Resources Control Board
  • Jörg Drewes, Blue Ribbon Panel on Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Recycled Water
  • Steve Weisberg, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
  • Sandra O’Neill, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Following the presentations, Dr. Amber Mace led a question and answer session with the panelists and council members.

Public Comments: 

  • Melissa Locke – San Luis Obispo Science and Ecosystem Alliance – Stressed the importance of researching and monitoring nonylphenol.  
  • Sara Sikich – Heal the Bay – Encouraged continued leadership by OPC on marine debris.  


11.  Christina Cairns, Project Manager, gave an overview of the panel discussion Desalination in California – Environmental and Economic Considerations for our Future Water Supply Portfolio.

Ms. Cairns introduced the panel members, including two who gave brief presentations:

  • Bob Wilkinson, University of California Santa Barbara, discussed state water policy and the findings of the California Desalination Task Force.
  • Todd Reynolds, Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, discussed different types of intake technologies.

Following the presentations, Dr. Mace led a discussion among the council and all of the panelists:

  • Jonathan Bishop, State Water Resources Control Board
  • Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute
  • Peter MacLaggan, Poseidon Resources
  • Dean Reynolds, California Department of Water Resources
  • Todd Reynolds, Kennedy/Jenks Consultants
  • Bob Wilkinson, University of California, Santa Barbara

 Public Comments:

  • Leila Monroe – Natural Resource Defense Council – Stated that California needs a statewide policy on water supply options. 
  • Corie Lopez – Food and Water Watch – Expressed concern regarding the privatization of public utilities.
  • Sara Sikich – Heal the Bay – Expressed concerned over co-localizing desalination with once-through cooling, supports state guidance on desalination use in California.
  • Bruce Reznik – San Diego Coast Keeper – Stated that the wrong questions are being asked when it comes to water supply and that San Diego needs a comprehensive water plan.
  • Jeff Mosher – National Water Research Institute – Expressed a desire to coordinate with the OPC on water supply issues.
  • Conner Everts – Desal Response Group – Wants to ensure all water supply options are considered before moving to desalination and requested a status of Prop. 50 funding on desalination technologies.
  • Joe Geever – Surfrider Foundation – Spoke to the benefits of using other water supply options rather than desalination.
  • Stefanie Sekich – Surfrider Foundation – Introduced the new Surfrider campaign called “Know Your H2O.”
  • Bill Hickman – Surfrider Foundation – Spoke in support of wastewater recycling and reuse.
  • Paul Herzog – Surfrider – Spoke about Surfrider launching an Ocean Friendly Gardens program.


12.       Secretary Chrisman concluded the meeting by congratulating Dr. Christine Blackburn on her new position in Washington, D.C. and thanked her for her outstanding work during her time as Program Manager of the OPC. Secretary Chrisman also announced the OST/ SCCOOS reception which directly followed the OPC meeting.


Secretary Chrisman adjourned the meeting at 5:26 p.m.