Monterey, CA — Today, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a final rule setting the annual catch limit for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy—the most important forage fish in the ocean ecosystem off California—higher than the best scientific estimates of the entire population. This decision by federal fishery managers sets the 2017 anchovy fishery catch limit at 25,000 metric tons (mt), despite the most recent science finding that this anchovy population has crashed to an average of 18,200 mt over the last four years.
“These fishery catch levels show a blatant disregard for science and conservation,” said Geoff Shester, California Campaign Director for Oceana. “This decision by federal fishery managers will jeopardize the potential recovery of the fishery in the future and leave already food starved dependent predators without enough to eat.”
Northern anchovy are critical prey for an extensive list of marine fish, birds, and mammals. In some years, the seasonal diets of Chinook salmon have been more than 90 percent anchovy. The productivity of brown pelicans—delisted from the Endangered Species Act six years ago—is closely tied to the abundance and availability of northern anchovy, which in some years makes up more than 92 percent of their diet. Northern anchovy also ranks among the most important food source for humpback whales, dolphins, and sea lions.
“The law requires NMFS to use best available science in setting catch limits,” said Mariel Combs, Pacific Counsel for Oceana. “These limits must prevent overfishing and protect the marine ecosystem. NMFS has not explained how the new limit satisfies its duty.”
The best available science published in Fisheries Research in 2016 and recently updated to reflect most recent data, estimates the northern anchovy population has declined by approximately 97 percent since 2005 and is now at historically low levels. Despite committing 12 months ago to complete a stock assessment, NMFS has failed to produce its own estimate of stock biomass. Its own indices of abundance, however, show a decline of over 95 percent since the 1980s. Meanwhile, more than two decades have passed since the agency last conducted a full anchovy stock assessment. The catch level set today is based on a 1991 model from the 1964-1990 period when anchovies were highly abundant. Oceana is urging the Pacific Fishery Management Council—a 14 member body that advises NMFS— to reconsider a directed anchovy fishery until the population can recover. This measure would prevent overfishing, allow for an update to the management regime that reflects the best available science, and protect key feeding areas for humpback whales and pelicans off Southern California and in Monterey Bay.