A federal judge on Friday ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) illegally adopted new regulations governing the management of the northern subpopulation of northern anchovy. Specifically, fisheries managers violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act when they failed to incorporate the timely advice of NMFS scientists when amending the Coastal Pelagic Species Management Plan governing the species at the base of the California Current ecosystem. While the court ruled in favor of Oceana on this glaring omission, it failed to address the remaining challenges facing the management of other important forage species. Questions now remain on whether the management of forage species, such as Pacific sardine, mackerel, and squid, is being undertaken with adequate precautions for the health of the ecosystem.
“While we are heartened that the ruling recognizes that managers must heed scientific recommendations when setting catch levels for forage species, we still have a long way to go to address the history of overly aggressive harvests,” said Whit Sheard, Pacific Counsel and Senior Advisor for Oceana. “As the court refused to address the merits of our claims that managers are ignoring their legally required obligation to set precautionary catch levels for forage that explicitly account for the needs of the ecosystem, we will continue to press forward through the courts, Congress, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and at the advisory council to protect these critically important and declining forage species.”
“At a time when sardine populations are collapsing and sea lions are starving on the beach, the judge's failure to reach a decision on how to protect the ecosystem maintains the status quo and allows the fishing industry to drive ecologically critical populations of forage species to further decline,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California Program Director. “Until our fishery managers start thinking about the ecosystem—and not just the fishing industry—when establishing catch levels, this battle will remain far from over.”
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found that the Pacific sardine population is in serious trouble. The scientists, including authors from NMFS, warned that managers may be remaking the same mistakes that led to the major population collapse in the late 1940s largely made famous by Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. They found a “critical” threshold in the Pacific sardine population level, below which it is at risk of severe collapse. Alarmingly, a recent stock assessment of that population shows it has now dropped below that threshold. Pacific sardine are a critical food source for innumerable marine species, including fish such as salmon which support important recreational and commercial fisheries. Most sardines caught off the West Coast are exported as aquaculture feeds or bait. Given the inherent role these small forage species play in the grand scale of the marine food web, Oceana will continue to fight for suitable management that protects and preserves forage fish and encourages holistic species abundance in our oceans.
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.