Jul 6 2019

Oceana sues over anchovy

Thank you for your objective reporting! it is worthwhile to emphasize also that despite Oceana’s allegations of ‘overfishing’, the central anchovy stock has demonstrated that it returned from an estimated low level to historic abundance in the presence of the small allowed fishery… A growing body of independent science now finds that this small fishery has negligible impact on the ecosystem, and in fact, harvest limits could be doubled without causing harm to ecosystem function. (Olsen et al 2018) In addition, the recent NMFS final rule was endorsed by both the SSC and PFMC as ‘best available’ science for the short term. The PFMC is continuing work and will again recommend updating the reference points when they have new / better data. 

Diane Pleschner-Steele

 

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Conservation Group Sues NMFS Over West Coast Anchovies For a Second Time

July 5, 2019

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case, NMFS issued a final rule regarding management of the central subpopulation of anchovy off California, and the conservation group Oceana sued. NMFS applied best available science and approved
policy to update the rule using recent biomass estimates, as directed by the Court, and re-filed it last month. Oceana sued again last week.

The lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service was filed over the agency’s “continued failure to prevent overfishing, use the best available science, or account for the food needs of ocean animals in managing anchovy,” Oceana said in a press release.

The rule established a multi-year, unchanging catch limit for anchovy that does not account for the frequent, and sometimes rapid, cycles of booms and busts in the size of this population, Oceana said. The final rule is a near carbon copy of an earlier proposal by the Fisheries Service in 2016 that was struck down in court because it did not use best available science and did not prevent overfishing.

Oceana, represented by Earthjustice, said NMFS continues to manage certain fish populations, including northern anchovy, by setting multi-year catch limits that stay in place regardless of the population’s status. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of California, claims that in failing to actively manage the anchovy population based on current population size, NMFS has again failed to use the best available science, prevent overfishing and ensure adequate forage fish for dependent predators,
the press release said.

The recent NMFS final rule employed the same harvest policy as originally approved and updated the reference points based on recent years of anchovy biomass estimates. The new overfishing limit, which represents a long-term average maximum sustainable yield, is close to the original estimate. The acceptable biological catch and annual catch limit also conform with the original harvest policy, which is based on 25% of the OFL. The anchovy population is acknowledged to be close to historic abundance, which is why the numbers are similar, industry members say.

The NMFS acoustic trawl survey method on which the management levels are based is at the heart of the issue. Both the California Wetfish Producers Association and the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group say the survey does not capture an accurate picture of the anchovy biomass; for example, it misses the nearshore the survey does not capture an accurate picture of the anchovy biomass; for example, it misses the nearshore areas that anchovy frequent as well as the upper 10 meters of the water column, the acoustic “dead zone.” The model used to estimate anchovy biomass also is missing critical age information from earlier decades.

“… despite Oceana’s claim that acoustic trawl surveys are ‘state of the art’ science, the 2018 Acoustic Trawl Methods Review down-weighted the AT survey biomass estimates to a ‘relative’ index of abundance because it omits a substantial portion of the biomass inshore of the existing survey tracks, as documented by our collaborative [California] Department of Fish and Wildlife aerial surveys,” CWPA Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said in an email.

Both the CWPA and WCPCG have developed collaborative methods to survey the nearshore areas for forage fish utilizing exempted fishing permits. The groups are working with both state and federal researchers to get a fuller picture of the anchovy — and other pelagic species — stock. Oceana representatives have said the acoustic trawl survey, with the state-of-the-art technological equipment, does represent the best available science. Industry members argue that the best equipment and a model that relies primarily on that data does not represent the “best science” since it cannot survey many areas where the anchovy spend much of their time.

“We remain frustrated that the Fisheries Service continues to ignore state of the art fish population surveys produced by their own scientists when deciding how many anchovies fishermen can catch on an annual basis,” Geoff Shester, Oceana California Campaign Director and Senior Scientist, said in a statement, noting that predators such as other fish, whales, pelicans, sea lions depend on anchovies and other forage fish species.

“Oceana has dismissed concerns industry has expressed about the survey, such as lack of data on the inshore components of the stock,” WCPCG member Mike Okoniewski said in an email. “While industry is actually working collaboratively with the science centers and state agencies to explore alternative survey methodology … , we wonder why Oceana would rather litigate, than collaborate with ongoing efforts the science staff and industry are undertaking to gain a better knowledge about the population size and behavior of our coastal pelagic stocks?”

Meanwhile, Pleschner-Steele said California fishermen have ben seeing abundant anchovy since 2015. At least now NOAA’s acoustic surveys are beginning to validate fishermen’s observations to a degree, but the still missing nearshore component is a problem that has been recognized as necessary to fully assess the central anchovy stock. The stock historically fluctuated between very high and very low abundance, even absent any fishing activity. The Pacific Fishery Management Council and NMFS have established a very precautionary management approach by capping the harvest at 25 percent of the estimated OFL. The harvest rule is based on a long-term average biomass, not a single-year stock assessment. Even with a 25,00 mt harvest cap, fishermen have landed far less, averaging only 8,000 mt per year or less.

“Industry will always have more ‘sea’ time than the survey or research ships. Our livelihoods depend on what we observe,” Okoniewski said. “While we are not scientists we do first hand surveillance of these stocks and their environment. This has motivated us to work more closely with the scientific staff, and in most cases this has been reciprocated by the science community. Coastal Pelagic stocks are difficult to survey and fishery observations often differ from scientific observations. We believe it is best to work together to resolve some of these differences in observation.”

Susan Chambers
SeafoodNews.com
1-541-297-2875
susanchambers@urnerbarry.com

 

 

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