Apr 10 2018

Despite fears, council ok’s incidental fishery for West Coast sardines

Pacific sardines, Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo: Todd Dwyer


A regulatory body heeded to “common sense” called for by the US’ top fishing regulator to be considered along with science allowing for an incidental fishery for West Coast sardines despite fears that there wouldn’t be one this year.

The April 8 decision by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional bodies that set quotas and fishing rules for federal waters, will allow West Coast commercial harvesters — and other users such as a Native American tribe, bait fishers and researchers — to catch up to 7,000 metric tons of sardines this year as “incidental take” or bycatch.

The health of the West Coast sardine biomass is hotly contested and has been since 2015 when the directed fishery was shuttered in an emergency closure after stocks fell below the 150,000t level. With current National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates putting the biomass at around 52,065t, not far above the minimize size stock threshold of 50,000t, harvesters were concerned that the incidental fishery wouldn’t be allowed.

The environmental campaign group Oceana had called for further cuts arguing that the stock is “not recovering and has declined even further compared with previous assessments”.

However, that position is counter to that of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA), which said that NOAA estimates are too low given the amount of sardines that fishermen are seeing in the water. One possible reason that the NOAA surveys aren’t seeing the extra sardines is that the agency’s vessels are too large to survey closer to shore where many of the fish are, the CWPA has said.

The council took its decision to allow for the incidental fishery after discussion that included comments from Chris Oliver, the head of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, who repeated his call to combine “scientific underpinning with practicality and common sense”.

Diane Pleschner-Steele, the CWPA’s executive director, told Undercurrent News that her group is grateful for Oliver’s comments and the council’s ruling.

“”The fishermen are being heard and that, I think, is a blessing,” she said.

The CWPA is working on projects to improve sardine surveys that NOAA uses for stock assessments even as the stock remains below levels that would allow for the directed fishery.

The industry that the CWPA represents is historically known as “wetfish” because their target pelagic species — sardine, anchovy and mackerel — were canned while still wet. In recent years California market squid, Loligo opalescens, has become the wetfish industry mainstay as pelagic catches waned, often due to fishing restrictions.

The warmer waters brought by El Nino scattered squid for colder waters and several wetfish processors struggled, the end result being a wave of buyouts and closures.

Anchovy and mackerel landings are still not as abundant as the group would like, and squid catches are rebounding this year.

Still, sardines are the “glue” that holds the industry together as the year-round fishery allows producers to keep occupied even as squid and other catches wax and wane, Pleschner-Steele told Undercurrent.

Posted on: https://www.undercurrentnews.com/

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