Aug 12 2010

Sardine Season Closed, but Fishing for Scientific Research Begins

The California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA), a non-profit organization representing the state’s Wetfish industry, announced today it will launch its innovative sardine research project for the second year during the current closed fishing season.

This unique project, developed by independent scientific advisors and co-sponsored by the CWPA and the Northwest Sardine Survey LLC (NWSS), will document the volume of sardines extending from Canada to Southern California and provide a coast-wide, minimum estimate of sardine abundance.

“The scientific goal of our groundbreaking project is to photo-document and measure the schools of sardines extending the length of the Pacific coast, and ultimately to understand their migration patterns to ensure sustainability,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of CWPA.  “This aerial survey will dramatically increase our knowledge of the Pacific coast sardine population and could also improve future fishing opportunities, which have suffered greatly in recent years.”

Sardine Research Crew

The west coast sardine survey will include select fishermen with special “experimental fishing permits” and spotter planes that will fly and photograph transects at 15-mile intervals from Cape Flattery in Washington to Southern California.  The survey will be conducted in two stages: an aerial survey that encompasses 66 transects and a second

stage where after identifying individual sardine schools of various sizes, pilots will direct fishing vessels to encircle and wrap the schools with purse seine nets.  Pilots have aerial cameras mounted in the planes to document the process.  Each school will be weighed at the dock, biological samples will be taken, and the tonnage will be linked to the photographs.  Scientists will then use mathematical formulas to determine variance between and among schools, and then estimate sardine abundance.

Why the need for the survey?

According to government statistics, sardine stock assessments for the past three years have declined sharply, but many fishermen – especially in the Pacific Northwest – report massive schools of sardines, which they believe aren’t being accurately counted.  And since the estimated abundance of sardines determines the harvest quota set by fishery managers, those numbers must be as scientifically accurate as possible.

“We want to ensure a sustainable fishery, so we’re working with scientists and other organizations to develop more accurate information on sardine resources.  This new information will lead to improved fishery management decisions – good for the resource, and good for the fishermen,” continued Pleschner-Steele.  “It’s no accident that California sardines are considered a sustainable fishery, and have been given a ‘best choice’ green rating on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list.”

“This is cutting edge fishery science and I’m very hopeful that this innovative program will continue into the future and will lead to a new way to assess the abundance of sardines,” said Dr. Doyle Hanan, a retired senior marine biologist supervisor from Department of Fish and Game, who will oversee the California portion of the project.

The fish caught during the research program will be harvested and packed at cost and sold, with proceeds going to offset the cost of the research program.  Results will be compiled and presented at a sardine stock assessment review panel in September and may be used to help determine the estimated abundance of the Pacific sardine resource and harvest guideline for 2011.

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