Today, the federal government issued a final rule establishing catch limits for the central sub-population of northern anchovy in response to a prevailing lawsuit filed by Oceana (Oceana, Inc. v. Ross). However, the new rule is nearly a carbon copy of the original rule the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) proposed in 2016, upon which Oceana sued and a federal judge determined violated the nation’s fisheries law when it set anchovy catch levels that ignored the best available science and failed to prevent overfishing.
Oceana’s California campaign director and senior scientist Dr. Geoff Shester issued the following statement in response to today’s rule:
“The Fisheries Service continues to show a blatant lack of regard for its legal responsibility to properly manage a public resource, and their careless actions are creating a ripple effect in the oceans. The revised catch limits for anchovy issued by the Fisheries Service today are not based on best available science, fail to prevent overfishing, and do not ensure adequate food fish for predators into the future. Additionally, the Fisheries Service crafted the catch limits in a way that it never has to revise or revisit these limits again; a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to managing a fish species that is critical to the health of innumerable ocean animals. It is appalling that the Fisheries Service has been recalcitrant in its response to the clear court decision that found its approach to anchovy management was unlawful. The Southwest Fisheries Science Center uses state of the art acoustic trawl surveys to estimate the size of the anchovy population every year, yet managers continue to set static catch limits that they never have to revisit. The Fisheries Service—and the Pacific Fishery Management Council who advise this government agency—need to set catch limits every year using the best available science which they have at their fingertips but choose to ignore.”
In 2016, Oceana filed a lawsuit, represented by Earthjustice, challenging the decision by the federal government to set a catch limit for the central sub-population of northern anchovy at 25,000 metric tons on the grounds that the federal agency dismissed multiple scientific sources indicating this catch level could exceed the estimated size of the entire anchovy population. In January 2018, Judge Koh, of the northern district court of California, ruled in Oceana’s favor that the Fisheries Service must use the best available science when establishing catch limits for the central sub-population of northern anchovy to prevent overfishing. In response to push back by the Fisheries Service, Judge Koh confirmed the original court order again in June 2018. A year after her original court ruling, and by the urging of Oceana, the judge found that the government’s failure to issue a new rule violates the law and she required the government to meet its legal obligation within 90-days. Today’s final rule is the result of Judge Koh’s most recent court order.
Northern anchovy are vitally important to supporting a healthy ocean food web, particularly off California. An extensive list of marine fish, birds, and mammals depend on these forage fish as prey (i.e. Chinook salmon, humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, and brown pelicans). Anchovy are also part of a portfolio of commercial ‘wetfish’ that also include sardines and mackerel. The commercial sardine fishery has been closed for the last five consecutive years, increasing fishing effort on anchovy.
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to secure responsible management for anchovy, click here.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one third of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 200 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit www.usa.oceana.org to learn more.