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The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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March 2014 SeaDoc Society Update

Science meets policy: where do you stand on smelt fishing?

smelt by J. Gaydos

SeaDoc is focused on identifying problems in the marine ecosystem and then using science to help find solutions.

Recently we were able to provide some important data on some very important fish: Surf Smelt. Now these data on the recreational harvest of smelt, along with other information, are being used by the general public and fisheries managers to make an important decision about Surf Smelt harvest in Washington.

Surf Smelt are one of 10 species of small schooling fishes that are critical for turning energy from plankton into fat and energy to feed larger fish (like salmon and lingcod), marine birds, and marine mammals.

Also, they are one of the few forage fish species for which there is a commercial and recreational fishery in Washington. Last year we funded a project to look at how many pounds of smelt are being harvested in the recreational fishery. It turns out, more than managers expected.

Now the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking to the public to decide if they should reduce the commercial or the recreational smelt fisheries (or both). The decision is not a scientific one, but it does use science. This is an opportunity for members of the public to help decide if they are comfortable with the current harvest, or if they are worried that the current harvest level is taking too many smelt away from the bigger fish they care more about, or from marine birds they like to watch.  Specifically, the Fish and Wildlife Commission is considering three options.

smelt dip netting by J. Gaydos

1) Leave things exactly as they are.

2) Reduce both commercial and recreational harvests.

3) Eliminate the commercial harvest and reduce the recreational harvest.

One of SeaDoc's primary goals is to make sure science gets off the shelf and gets used by decision makers and the public in making policy. We've done the science. Now it's time for it to get used.

SeaDoc is NOT an advocacy organization. We're not going to tell you what you should say in your comments, but we do want to encourage you use the available data to figure out your position and make your voice heard.

Check out our fact sheet (updated April 2014) on Surf Smelt in the Salish Sea. Use it to learn more about this important species and to learn how easy it is for you to be a part of this rule making process. Please share it with other people who are interested in the ecological and economic health of the Salish Sea.

Commenting is easy. You can do it online at It can be as quick as filling out your name and choosing a preferred option, or you can include a comment of up to 1,000 characters. If you're interested in attending a public meeting and giving 3 minutes of in-person testimony, read our hints in the fact sheet.

The fact sheet is here:

Learn more about our smelt fishing study here:

Photos: J. Gaydos

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You mean eelgrass can get disease?


Eelgrass (Zostera marina) plays a key role in the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem. It stabilizes sediments, reduces the impact of wave action, provides habitat, and is an important nursery and foraging area for multiple species, some of which are endangered.

SeaDoc's involvement in eelgrass issues goes back to 2003, when we convened a meeting of eelgrass experts, resource managers, and land-use specialists to analyze the sudden disappearance of 35 acres of eelgrass in San Juan Island's Westcott Bay.

Eelgrass can be damaged by pollutants, by shading from docks and structures, and by physical damage from improper anchoring or badly placed moorings. It's also susceptible to disease, particularly from a slime mold-like organism called Labyrinthula zosterae. And it’s no small threat. This disease wiped out 90% of the eelgrass along the Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe in the 1930s.

We know that the organism is found in the Salish Sea, but the mere presence of a pathogen does not always mean disease. So what are the other factors? A recent publication by Maya Groner and numerous colleagues (supported in part by SeaDoc) used field surveys and experimental manipulations to find out how the age of eelgrass leaves impacts disease prevalence.

The upshot: mature beds and shallow eelgrass beds could be especially susceptible to outbreaks of wasting disease.

View the publication here:

Photo: NOAA Photo Library

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SeaDoc Science Advisor Peter Ross leads a new ocean pollution initiative

Peter RossThe Vancouver Aquarium announced in February the launch of its new Ocean Pollution Science Program. The program will conduct critically important research on the sources and consequences of ocean pollution.

Dr. Peter Ross, a long-time SeaDoc Science Advisor and former scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will lead the program.

Read more:

Photo: Neil Fisher / Vancouver Aquarium

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Gilardi named as Co-Director of the Wildlife Health Center

gilardi in africa

SeaDoc is a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is a center of excellence at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (ever wonder where the name SeaDoc(tors) comes from?).

Last week, veterinary school dean Dr. Michael Lairmore named SeaDoc’s Executive Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi as Co-Director of the Wildlife Health Center. This will not change Dr. Gilardi’s role as SeaDoc’s Executive Director, but it is a great honor that she and colleague Dr. Michael Ziccardi have been named to co-direct this important center. Dr. Gilardi also will continue to direct the Wildlife Health Center’s Gorilla Doctors program. Congratulations Kirsten!

Photo: Gorilla Doctors

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Donate to the 2014 Wine 'n' Sea Auction

This year's Wine 'n' Sea Auction will be held on July 12, 2014, from 5 to 8:30pm. Board member Rochelle Severson and her husband Cory will host the event at their beautiful waterfront property in Grindstone Harbor on Orcas Island, and it's shaping up to be a fantastic evening. (Rochelle knows how to throw a party...)

As always, we're looking for donations of fine wines, unique experiences, and other items.

For those who want to donate wine, we've set up a special arrangement with Compass Wines of Anacortes. Co-owner Doug Charles has selected a variety of wines for the auction. On our website you can pick out one or more bottles from Doug's list. You can then purchase the wine for 20% off the list price and donate it to the auction. Compass Wines takes care of delivery.

Contact Jean Lyle at the SeaDoc office at 360-376-3910 with your other donation ideas.

Buy tickets for the event here:

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SeaDoc in the News

In February, the team of investigators studying the death of killer whale L112 released their draft report. Joe Gaydos was one of 15 scientists trying to find out what killed the whale. The Associated Press covered the story:

"This whale was killed from a blunt-force trauma, but [despite] every effort possible, we couldn't tell if it came from another ship or whale," said Joseph Gaydos, a co-author of the report and wildlife veterinarian with SeaDoc Society, a program of the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis' School of Veterinary Medicine. "The evidence doesn't support that it was a sonar episode or explosion."

See more on our website:

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Upcoming Events

March 7, 7pm. Dolphins in the Bahamas (and harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea). Presented by the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. Anacortes. Details online.

Tuesday, March 11, 7pm. Marine Science Lecture: Kit Rawson will preset "Calling Back the Salmon Spirit," a talk on Washington Tribes and salmon recovery. Emmanuel Church Parish Hall in Eastsound.

March 14, 15, 16. Oil Spill Risks in the Islands. Various islands, various times. Details online.

April 5, 8:30am - 3:30pm. Fidalgo Shoreline Academy in Anacortes. Sponsored by Friends of Skagit Beaches. Details online.

2014 Salish Sea Conference: The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference will be held April 30-May 2, 2014, at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle. SeaDoc's Salish Sea Science Prize will be awarded at the conference on Thursday, May 1. (Yes, we have a winner!)

2014 Wine 'n' Sea Auction: Our 2014 auction will be on Saturday, July 12th, 2014 on Orcas Island. Mark your calendar and buy tickets online.


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About SeaDoc

The SeaDoc Society uses science to find solutions to the problems facing marine ecosystems. We are a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, a center of excellence at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

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