Apr 18 2016

Sardine stories

Ray Hilborn is a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington and a founding partner of cfooduw.org. Find him on twitter @hilbornr.

At the end of February, Dr. Geoff Shester, California campaign director for the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, criticized the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the persistence of low numbers of California sardines. The lack of a population recovery may cause the commercial moratorium to last until 2017.

The author explained this sardine population decline as being 93 percent less than it was in 2007. Shester does not believe this is because of environmental causes like climate change, El Niño or natural fluctuations in forage fish species, however. Instead he blames the management body.

“They warned of a population collapse, and the fishery management body basically turned a blind eye and continued moving forward with business as usual.”

Shester also cited recent sea lion deaths, specifically 3,000 that washed ashore in California in 2015.

“When fishing pressure occurs during a decline, which is exactly what happened here,” says Shester, “it puts the stock at such dramatically low levels it impedes any recovery potentially for decades.” Shester’s comments are some of the most dishonest commentary I have seen in the fisheries world.

He knows the NOAA scientists and Professor Tim Essington, in work funded by the Pew Foundation, have stated clearly that the decline in sardine abundance is due to natural causes. He also knows that sea lions are not dependent upon sardines; the die-off of sea lions is caused by the oceanographic conditions — not the result of fishing. In fact, reproductive failures of sea lions have occurred repeatedly in the past at times of high sardine abundance.

If he has read Essington’s paper (“Fishing amplifies forage fish population collapses”) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he would also know that there is no relationship between fishing and the duration of periods of low abundance of sardines and other forage fish.

The harvest rule for sardines is highly precautionary, even when sardines are at high abundance, the harvest rate is low. Indeed the harvest control rule for sardines matches very well the recommended harvest rule for forage fish that emerged from the Lenfest report — that is a low target harvest rate at high abundance with the fishery closed when the stock reaches low abundance.

Members of the Science and Statistical Committee of the Pacific Fishery Management Council have explained all this to Shester before. He simply continues to ignore science and pursue his own agenda.

Download the PDF of this article: http://www.nationalfisherman.com/images/pdfs/Article_PDFs/05_2016_NF_Sardine_Stories.pdf

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