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Federal Fisheries Council Votes to Close West Coast Sardine Fishery Next Season

Rohnert Park, CA -  The Pacific Fishery Management Council  voted yesterday to close the directed Pacific sardine fishery off the U.S. West Coast for the 2015-16 fishing year starting July 1. Oceana requests the Council take immediate emergency action to close the Pacific sardine fishery for the remainder of the current season, which is scheduled to end June 30. With approximately two thousand tons of unmet catch left in this season’s quota, the Council will consider emergency action for the current season later this week. 

“The Council’s closure of the directed sardine fishery acknowledges the severe crisis in the sardine population,” explains Dr. Geoff Shester, California campaign director for Oceana. “Yesterday’s vote is a first step toward recovery of this important forage species.”

The collapse of the sardine population is causing ecological effects on marine wildlife, which may have widespread and lasting implications. 

“We have been seeing the impacts of a collapsing sardine population on sea lions and seabirds for years now,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana. “Sardine are also prey for recreationally and commercially important species like Chinook salmon and albacore tuna, so the effects of a lack of sardine could have much wider impacts.”

Sardine experience natural fluctuations depending on ocean conditions but a new study published last Monday shows that fishing increases the frequency and magnitude of forage fish collapse. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) scientists showed that fishing decreased the sardine population to levels four times lower than what it would have been without fishing. 

Under current rules, there are not enough sardine to allow a commercial fishery for the next fishing year. A new scientific assessment prepared by NMFS found that the sardine population has collapsed 93 percent since 2007. Additionally, the sardine population is estimated to be at 96,688 metric tons, far below the 150,000 metric tons required for fishing to occur. 

While the directed sardine fishery will be closed, the Council decided to allow 7,000 metric tons to be taken as incidental catch in other fisheries like those targeting market squid and mackerel, and to allow for a directed tribal fishery off Washington state. 

Moving forward, Oceana is requesting the Council overhaul its fishery management plan to account for ecosystem needs and increase the amount of sardines that must be left in the ocean before fishing should be allowed to occur in the future.

Learn more here about the current collapse of the Pacific sardine fishery, impacts to marine wildlife, and solutions to prevent a future crisis.