Monterey, CA — Today, a new scientific study released by the National Marine Fisheries Service finds that the northern Pacific sardine population off the U.S. West Coast remains at perilously low levels. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (“Council”) is scheduled to review the population assessment on Monday April 10, when it must make recommendations for managing the commercial Pacific sardine fishery.
“The new science shows the Pacific sardine population has collapsed 95 percent since 2006 and yet, during the crash, commercial fishing rates skyrocketed above sustainable levels, making the crash even worse,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California Campaign Director and Senior Scientist. “To avoid this from happening again, we have to change the way we manage these fish.”
While sardines experience natural population fluctuations in response to changing ocean conditions, fishing can increase the frequency and intensify the magnitude of forage fish collapse.
Based on the continued sardine collapse, Oceana is urging the 14-voting members of the Council to keep the U.S. West Coast sardine fishery closed for a third year in a row. The sardine population is estimated to be 86,586 metric tons, below the 150,000 metric ton threshold required for commercial fishing to occur.
In addition to keeping the directed fishery closed, Oceana is calling for a management overhaul to prevent overfishing in the future and protect ocean wildlife dependent on sardines for food. Necessary management change includes increasing the amount of sardines that must be left in the ocean before fishing is allowed to occur and implementing a coordinated management approach with Mexico and Canada to prevent coast-wide, international overfishing.
“The lack of prey – both sardine and anchovy – has directly impacted sea lions and seabirds that rely on these forage fish,” says Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist. “The collapse of the sardine population may have widespread and lasting ecological effects on marine wildlife.”
While the Council is likely to keep the directed sardine fishery closed, it must make key decisions to allow for a specified amount of incidental catch in other commercial fisheries like market squid and mackerel.