Tuna, sharks absent from nearby waters

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Posted by on August 23, 2005 at 20:46:48:

Lack of typical winds earlier this summer may be to blame for 'oddball year'

Unusual weather patterns in the Pacific Ocean may be causing two migratory fish -- one welcome and the other feared -- to skip their annual summer visit to the Central Coast.

Albacore, a popular summertime offering in fish markets, are all but absent. Coastal authorities are also reporting fewer shark sightings.

"This is an oddball year, all around," said Marija Vojkovich, who manages offshore ocean resources for the state Department of Fish and Game.

Great white sharks and albacore tuna make huge annual migrations through the Pacific Ocean. Summer is when they pass the Central Coast.

White sharks are attracted by the large number of seals that congregate here, while albacore are drawn by the slightly warmer water temperatures of summer.

Ocean managers and fishermen suspect the absence of these two fish may be related to a lack of persistent northwesterly winds earlier this summer that cause an upwelling of nutrient-rich waters. This upwelling of microscopic food forms the basis of the marine food chain.

These unusual conditions have caused lower numbers of smaller fish, such as anchovies, and a profusion of red tides, primarily in Southern California and recently along the Central Coast.

Most striking is the absence of albacore, which usually start arriving in June. Their numbers fluctuate from year to year, but this year albacore are almost entirely avoiding California waters.

"We've unloaded 10 albacore this season," said John Lindsay, who runs the Morro Bay Fisherman's Wharf. "There's just nothing to draw them in."

In Southern California, entire fishing fleets are tied up to the docks because they can't find albacore. Only Mexico and Oregon report good albacore fishing.

"The high price of fuel is also making fishermen reluctant to go out looking for the fish,"

Vojkovich said.

Less easy to explain are the drop in shark sightings. While there are fewer anchovies and other bait fish in the water, there are still plenty of seals, the main food for large white sharks.

Since swimmer Deborah Franzman was killed by a great white shark at Avila Beach in 2003, Port San Luis authorities have developed a protocol for evaluating the validity of shark sightings.

"We've definitely had fewer reported sightings," said Casey Nielsen, port operations manager. "We've received some phone calls but not a lot of credible sightings."

Weather conditions appear to be returning to their normal patterns as the summer draws to a close. Ocean observers say they can only guess if that means that the albacore and white sharks will be back next year.

"The ocean is a mysterious place," Nielsen said. "It changes from year to year."

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