Today, federal fishery managers began to apply the brakes on the harvest of Pacific sardine off the U.S. West Coast in light of new scientific evidence further confirming a crashing sardine population. Instead of simply following the current path, federal fishery management officials voted today to set 2014 catch levels 33% below what they would have been under the existing management regime.
“It’s clear the Pacific sardine population is in the midst of a crash. While the decision today is a step in the right direction, there shouldn’t be any fishing on sardine right now,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Campaign Manager for Oceana.
Some federal scientists predicted this collapse last year and warned of overfishing, but managers ignored it and continued on with business as usual. This year, however, fishery managers chose a lower quota than that specified by the harvest formula for the first time since the federal government assumed management authority for sardine in 2000. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) was split on its decision to lower 2014 sardine catch levels, but ultimately voted 7-6 in favor of doing so. Oceana commends the State of California for leading the effort on the Council floor to establish lower sardine catch levels.
“We commend the Council for beginning to heed the warning signs of a crashing sardine stock, but today’s decision may ultimately be too little, too late,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “We hope the Council takes further steps in the right direction to fix the underlying problems with sardine management.”
As evidence validating long-running concerns about the fate of this small, but critically important fish, a new assessment of Pacific sardine released on October 28, 2013 shows that the species is at its lowest biomass in 20 years, coastwide overfishing occurred in 2012, and that the population is projected to continue this downward trend. According to the new assessment, the sardine population has declined by almost 979,000 tons since 2007, while the fishery removed 1,035,000 tons over the same period. The assessment also showed that 2012 catch levels exceeded “maximum sustainable yield” signaling that overfishing occurred.
Pacific sardine are a key food source for Chinook salmon, bluefin tuna, brown pelicans, dolphins, and large whales to name a few. The declining sardine population will have significant negative impacts on the health of the marine ecosystem, associated wildlife tourism revenue, and coastal economies. For example, NOAA declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” for yearling sea lions in Southern California earlier this year, explained by a lack of available food.
To minimize the current crisis, Oceana requested the sardine fishery be closed for the remainder of 2013 and through the first half of 2014 until the broken management framework is fixed, and a new assessment demonstrates the sardine population has recovered.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.