Federal scientists just released the new draft population estimate for Pacific sardines and the numbers indicate there are not enough sardines to allow commercial fishing for a second year in a row. Oceana is alarmed that the sardine population has been driven to such low numbers that it continues to decline and will have the cascading impact of starvation for ocean predators like sea lions, seals, and pelicans.
“Pacific sardines are an incredibly important economic and ecological ocean resource,” said Geoff Shester, California Campaign Director for Oceana. “Fishermen with lost income will suffer financially, and marine animals like California sea lion pups will face another year of fighting starvation.”
The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to close the Pacific sardine fishery last April when the population was at 96,688 metric tons. The new population assessment shows the population has declined by 33 percent since last year, and is now estimated at 64,422 metric tons. This is less than half of the minimum 150,000 metric tons of sardines required before fishing can occur. While oceanographic conditions have a role to play in the decline, overfishing in recent years has increased the rate and magnitude of the collapse.
“This fishery collapse is the unfortunate result of a broken management system,” said Shester. “While a fishery closure will help, we ultimately need fundamental reforms to bring the sardines back and prevent this from happening again.”
Oceana is calling on federal fishery managers for an overhaul of the way catch levels are calculated. We are requesting a four-fold increase in the amount of sardines that must be left in the ocean before fishing is allowed to occur in the future, and that the catch in Mexico and Canada is properly accounted for. Such management changes would have prevented the extent of the current collapse and are critical to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.
The population estimate will undergo scientific review on March 10, and will be finalized for management decisions by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in April. If the draft assessment withstands review, there will be no sardine fishery in the coming year.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. We run science-based campaigns and seek to win policy victories that can restore ocean biodiversity and ensure that the oceans are abundant and can feed hundreds of millions of people. Oceana victories have already helped to create policies that could increase fish populations in its countries by as much as 40 percent and that have protected more than 1 million square miles of ocean. We have campaign offices in the countries that control close to 40 percent of the world’s wild fish catch, including in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.