Oct 16 2019

New Data Makes Case for Anchovy Abundance as Oceana Lawsuit Continues

New, preliminary data from the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) have provided further evidence that California’s anchovy population is now at record high levels. The data come amid a renewed lawsuit by the environmental group Oceana that seeks to reduce the already very limited amount of anchovy caught commercially in California.

The preliminary data from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center Larval Lab weekly report on September 16 show that the 2019 spring CalCOFI survey documented the highest abundance of larval anchovy off the coast of California ever recorded — nearly double the record amount from the mid-1960s. It did not even include the tens of thousands of tons of anchovy that fishermen have reported in nearshore waters since 2015. This is the latest piece of evidence that the anchovy population is far more resilient than Oceana alleges, according to the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Scientists have found that anchovy undergo large dynamic population swings naturally, even without fishing, and the precautionary fishing limits allowed have not harmed the ecosystem. But despite the latest evidence of anchovy abundance, Oceana is suing to further limit California’s small anchovy fishery.

Members of the Wetfish Producers Association have long held that massive schools of anchovies, particularly in California’s inshore areas, have not been properly counted. CWPA has worked to confirm the observations of its members in cooperative surveys with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. These nearshore surveys add evidence to the preliminary CalCOFI data: there are tens of thousands of tons of anchovies in inshore California waters, in addition to record abundance offshore. This explosion occurred in the presence of this small, historical fishery.

“There is an increasingly large body of evidence showing that anchovies are far more abundant than the allegations in Oceana’s lawsuit recognize,” Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of CWPA, said in a press release. “It’s why efforts to further restrict anchovy fishing are both unnecessary and harmful to West Coast fishing communities.”

However, Oceana still seeks stricter limits on the allowable catch of the central subpopulation of northern anchovy, which is currently set at 23,573 metric tons annually as a result of prior court rulings. The fishery typically catches less than 10,000 metric tons annually of this legally allowed amount.

” … the new rule would allow 23,573 metric tons of catch regardless of whether the population rapidly declines to very small levels, was at its historic average size, or was in a boom period. This unchanging catch limit ignores the agency’s legal duties to apply the best available science to anchovy management, and its non-discretionary
duty to adjust the catch limits based on best available science to prevent overfishing in the down years,” Oceana said in its most recent lawsuit.

The group said the Council should follow an annual management strategy that “sets annual catch limits based on the current estimates of abundance from acoustic trawl surveys that would prevent overfishing and ensure sufficient food for ocean wildlife in the future,” Oceana says on its website.

However, the additional studies show an overall picture of anchovy abundance that is higher than that shown by the acoustic trawl survey alone. Oceana representatives have argued in the past that the acoustic trawl survey is the most technologically advanced method — and therefore, the best science available — for assessing anchovy abundance. Industry members countered that identifying the amount of anchovies in nearshore areas using scientifically proven methods adds to the cumulative best available science; therefore, fishery managers should make their decisions based on information from the entire suite of available data.

In August, CWPA filed to intervene in Oceana’s latest lawsuit in order to participate in the proceedings and represent the interests of its members and fishing communities before the court. CWPA believes that the additional restrictions on the anchovy harvest being sought by the lawsuit are unnecessary, and would result in significant job loss and economic hardship for California’s wetfish fishermen and processors, and by extension, California communities and the state’s fishing economy.

“We believe that the evidence will show that anchovy is being managed precautionarily and with the conservation of the species in mind,” Pleschner-Steele said. “Best management practices and the best available science do not support the claims of overfishing made in the lawsuit.”


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