Oct 16 2019

Sides battle over Monterey Bay’s anchovy population

Neil Guglielmo, right, is 78 and has been fishing anchovies out of Monterey since 1956 and said the population is plentiful. (Monterey Herald file photo)

MONTEREY — A fishing industry group says it has new findings supporting its contention that there is a healthy population of anchovies, which is counter to a nonprofit’s lawsuit challenging how the number of anchovies are determined. Meanwhile, Monterey fishermen say there are tons of the little guys in the local fishery.

Gino Pennisi and Neil Guglielmo have been fishing out of Monterey for years, in Guglielmo’s case, since 1956. Both say anchovies are plentiful.

“They were so thick for a while you could walk up them,” Pennisi said, adding that right now they have moved north to Moss Landing and San Francisco. “They have tails; they move.”

But the nonprofit group Oceana argues the number of anchovies federal agencies state are not accurate and as a result can misstate the population and allow limits greater than the population would support.

Anchovies are critical to marine life in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Pelicans, sea lions and humpback whales all depend on the Northern Anchovy as a food source.

Anchovy numbers off the coast of California are the subject of debate between fishermen and an environmental nonprofit. (Provided/NOAA Marine Fisheries)

Anchovy numbers off the coast of California are the subject of debate between fishermen and an environmental nonprofit. (Provided/NOAA Marine Fisheries)

The California Wetfish Producers Association, a fishing industry trade group, on Thursday released data showing California anchovies are at record levels. The data was compiled by the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations, a partnership of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries Service and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Wetfish Producers issued a statement essentially saying the data from Fisheries Investigations flies in the face of what Oceana is arguing in its lawsuit. Oceana’s suit was filed by the nonprofit Earthjustice on behalf of Oceana in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District.

It lists several allegations but the primary argument is that Marine Fisheries has failed to conduct a full assessment of anchovies since 1995. The regulator has released annual surveys but Oceana argues those are insufficient to accurately determine the population.

“The annual surveys are insufficient for proper long-term management of the fishery to prevent overfishing and to ensure sufficient food for dependent wildlife,” said Ashley Blacow-Draeger, Oceana’s Pacific policy and communications manager based out of Monterey.

Not so, said Joshua Lindsay, fishery policy analyst for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The surveys have become far more accurate in the past few years and the data they produce are considered sound, hard science. And science is showing a healthy population.

“We feel comfortable with the survey data,” Lindsay said. “We have seen the population substantially increase every year.”

There has been concern about problems with nesting brown pelicans along the Channel Islands where much of their annual nesting occurs. Oceana says it’s from dwindling anchovy populations. Marine Fisheries said it’s because a warm-water phenomenon nicknamed “the blob,” a warm patch of water in the northern Pacific Ocean associated with algal blooms and marine die-offs. It also pushed anchovies away from the historic pelican nesting grounds.

Back in Monterey Bay, Guglielmo, one of the Monterey fishermen, said he sees hundreds of pelicans when he’s out on his boat.

The current limit of anchovies is 23,573 metric tons, based on an earlier court ruling, said Diane Pleschner-Steele, the executive director of the Wetfish Producers Association. The fishery typically catches less than 10,000 metric tons.

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

Still, the same federal district court in 2018 issued a ruling on a previous Oceana lawsuit requiring the U.S. Fisheries Service to apply the best available science to prevent overfishing of anchovies.

The Fisheries Service says it is using the best available science and is currently collecting data that will be part of a full population assessment in the next couple of years.


Originally published: https://www.montereyherald.com/

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