As plans to bring offshore wind to the North Coast move steadily ahead, commercial fishermen are urging federal and state regulatory agencies to pump the brakes.
“I want to make one thing clear: Fishermen are not opposing [renewable] projects up here, we’re opposing the loss of thousands of miles of fishing grounds,” Ken Bates, president of the California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association (CFRA), told the Outpost in a recent interview. “Fishermen understand what’s going on with the climate. They can see what’s going on with the ocean. They get it. … That being said, we need to exercise a little bit of caution before we just throw these projects to the wind, so to speak.”
“Interestingly enough, the areas that are the windiest on the California, Oregon and Washington coasts are also the areas that are most biologically productive,” Bates said. 
Bates has relayed his concerns to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency that oversees the development of offshore renewable energy projects, but he feels commercial fishermen aren’t being heard.
“The lease area was picked by [BOEM] without input from anybody in the fishing fleet,” he said, adding that there are only a handful of fully operational floating wind turbines in the world. “Part of what fishermen are asking for is to slow down. Let’s be careful and make sure we’re not doing more damage than we’re hoping to alleviate by implementing this technology in the ocean. …We’re scrambling to try to find a way to have some input in this process.”
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Five California tribes will reclaim their right to manage coastal land significant to their history under a first-in-the-nation program backed with $3.6 million in state money.

The tribes will rely on their traditional knowledge to protect more than 200 miles of coastline in the state, as climate change and human activity have impacted the vast area.

Some of the tribes' work will include monitoring salmon after the removal of a century-old defunct dam in the redwood forests in the Santa Cruz mountains and testing for toxins in shellfish, while also educating future generations on traditional practices.

Megan Rocha, who’s on the Tribal Marine Stewards Network’s leadership council, said these coastal areas hold cultural significance for various tribes, making the partnership monumental.

“It’s focused on tribal sovereignty,” she said. “So how do we build a network where it provides for collaboration, but again, it allows each tribe to do it in the way that they see fit and respects each tribe’s sovereignty.”

The network plans to create agreements between tribes and with state government for managing these areas.

Rocha is also executive director of Resighini Rancheria, a tribe of Yurok people that is part of the network.

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The edges of Humboldt Bay are on the verge of being overrun by the sea. It laps at the boundaries of Highway 101, surrounds the Arcata Marsh, and sneaks around the corners of low-lying industrial areas in Eureka. 

SINKING SHORELINE

Humboldt’s location at the end of the Cascadia Subduction Zone makes the area more vulnerable to sea level rise than any other location on the California coast. Due to its position in a very active tectonic area and the specific activity of the surrounding plates, the Humboldt County region is steadily sinking, or subsiding. 

The Humboldt Bay Vertical Reference System Working Group is a research group focused on identifying geology’s role in Humboldt Bay sea level rise. In a 2017 report, they found that land subsidence contributes to sea level rise 2 to 3 times more in Humboldt County than anywhere else in California. Of the 18 inch rise in sea levels that has occurred locally in the past century, an estimated 50% is due to tectonic subsidence.

“The ocean isn’t rising any faster off of our coast than it is down in San Francisco, but we have subsidence that the rest of California doesn’t have,” said environmental planning consultant Aldaron Laird. 

Laird has been an essential part of local sea level rise risk assessment and adaptation planning over the last decade, consulting with Humboldt County and various local districts. 

ADAPTATION PLANNING

Humboldt County has commissioned many reports which assess the risk that sea level rise poses to infrastructure and communities. These contextualize what different levels of sea level rise will mean, and suggest possible adaptation measures. However, the reports do not implement the adaptation measures.

The most recent grant-funded project to tackle this issue concluded in 2019, yet none of the recommendations from that, or any other report, have been implemented. 

An area that the reports do not touch on is the potential for industrial contamination in the bay as sea level rise reaches new areas.

In her career as an environmental advocate, Jennifer Kalt has observed the local government’s lackluster reaction to the threat of sea level rise for years. 

“What I have seen as a repeating theme is a lot of local jurisdictions getting grant money to develop plans and then there isn’t a plan,” said Kalt. “It’s a little depressing to see so much planning lead to nothing.”

Michael Richardson is a supervising planner of long range planning in the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department, which is responsible for sea level rise adaptation planning. He said that the county would like to decide on terms of collaboration with other local jurisdictions before they plan to implement any sea level rise adaptation measures. Simply put, they don’t have immediate plans to do anything specific.

“There would be a different process to go forward with getting the cities and the county on the same page and whatever agreements need to be made,” said Richardson. “What that plan looks like is what we’re still figuring out.”

Kalt doesn’t think that the pace at which the government is moving on this issue will make a difference in time. In addition to protecting residential areas, she said that their focus should be on relocating key infrastructure. 

“I’m concerned that a lot of the agencies that need to address these problems, there’s not a lot of political will to do what needs to be done,” said Kalt.

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Last week, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-02) visited Egypt as part of the congressional delegation for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 27.

Huffman was able to share the progress Humboldt County has made on its proposed offshore wind farm, which he supports, but noted that Humboldt County also needs to focus on forest and coastal resilience in addition to mitigating the effects of sea level rise and maintaining healthy, carbon-sequestering soils.

“No one should wait for the UN, or Congress or any other institution at the national or global level to solve this problem. We don’t have time for that,” Huffman said. “Frankly, even the best agreements at those levels are going to need people and communities at the sub-national level doing their part.”

Every year since the Paris Agreement, the unenforceable 2016 pledge from many nations, including the largest polluters, has seen record-setting temperatures across the world.

In Humboldt County, climate change presents a physical and financial threat to residents in addition to the hazards faced by wildlife. High levels of toxic domoic acid in 2014 delayed Dungeness crabbing season and increased whale entanglements when the season opened later than usual during the whales’ migratory period, said Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper, a local environmental nonprofit.

“That led to new regulations for crabbing, which was arguably the last reliable commercial fishery for the Humboldt Bay fishing fleet,” Kalt said.
 
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Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a $4.2 million award for a four-year study on Dungeness crab and krill that will bring together researchers and experts from coastal tribes, public universities and federal agencies from Northern California to Washington.

Climate change has been exacerbating existing marine environmental stressors through changes in temperatures, ocean chemistry and seasonal cycles.

The ocean absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere, primarily from human activity. Increases in the gas in the ocean have led to rising acidity. Studies have shown as acidity rises, shellfish struggle to maintain hardy shells, their growth slows, and death rates rise.
There’s plenty of research and real-world evidence that confirms climate change is hurting marine species, said Jack Barth, executive director of the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State University.

The blob, a marine heat wave that wreaked havoc on Northwest fisheries during 2015 and 2016, led to seabird die-off, poor salmon returns and dozens of closures.

“We’ve had these catastrophic events like the heat blob and things that are showing us that things are changing,” Hagen said, “and they’re not changing incrementally.”

But scientists still don’t have a good handle on how organisms are affected by multiple stressors. What happens when crabs are faced with algal blooms, low oxygen and warm water?

Researchers hope to start to figure that out in the next four years.

They plan to map out where the lowest concentrations of oxygen lie and where the warm water is, and find where these stressors intersect to make life even more hostile for the species, said Richard Feely, senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

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