Posts Tagged Lenfest Report

May 21 2016

Whither the Lenfest report?


Whither the Lenfest report?

May 20, 2016 — The following is an op-ed by Dave Frulla and Anne Hawkins, published in the June 2016 issue of National Fisherman:

In 2012, the Lenfest Ocean Program commissioned a report entitled “Little Fish, Big Impact,” regarding management of lower trophic level fisheries. Lenfest and other environmental groups followed the report’s publication with a major domestic and international media campaign. If Lenfest wanted to spark scientific debate and inquiry regarding forage fish management, it did a good job. If, however, its plan was to drive a “one- size-fits-all” solution to a complex problem, the results are far less constructive.

The report consisted of a literature review and basic computer modeling to “quantify” the value of forage fish to their predators. It concluded these fish were twice as valuable to other animals as for human nutritional, agricultural and aquaculture uses. The report thus recommended cutting forage fish catch rates between 50 and 80 percent across the board, to double the amount of forage fish left for fish, seabirds and other predators. It also recommended closures for spawning and around seabirds that rely on forage fish, and instructed no additional forage fish fisheries be authorized.

At release, the Lenfest report was received relatively uncritically, despite its far-reaching conclusions and recommendations. Since then, globally preeminent fishery scientists, including some of the Lenfest report’s own authors, have begun to examine the report’s assumptions and conclusions. Despite the report’s confident tone, there is no consensus on whether special management measures will provide any benefit to forage stocks.

Criticism of the Lenfest report can be divided into two main categories: its application to specific forage species, and its general methodology. Regarding application to specific species, it is important first to highlight there is no common definition of “forage fish.” It is, rather, a loosely formed concept, given how many marine organisms (and not just finfish) can be labeled important prey species for a given ecosystem or even for just one species.

Further, not all low trophic species fit the Lenfest report’s biological archetype. For instance, in April 2015, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Biological Ecological Reference Points Workgroup presented a Memorandum to the Commission’s Menhaden Management Board stating that, “Ultimately, the BERP WG does not feel that the management actions recommended in [the Lenfest report]… are appropriate for Atlantic menhaden specific management,” in part because menhaden do not exhibit the stock-recruit relationship assumed in the Lenfest paradigm. (That is, menhaden recruitment is driven by environmental factors, rather than spawning stock size.)

As to methodology, the Lenfest report largely drew conclusions from ecosystem models that were not designed to evaluate management strategy impacts on low trophic level fisheries. The Lenfest report admits this shortcoming. Indeed, after its publication, Lenfest report authors Tim Essington and Eva Plaganyi co-authored their own follow-up paper showing that among the most common features absent from most of these ecosystem models were natural variability of forage fish stocks, important aspects of spatial structure, and the extent of overlap in size of predator and prey stocks. Regarding the last factor, a predator may eat smaller-sized year classes of prey fish than a fishery targets. Accordingly, humans and the predator fish aren’t competing; the forage species ran the predation gauntlet before being subject to fishing. Overall, Essington and Plaganyi concluded that “most of [the existing] models were not developed to specifically address questions about forage fish fisheries and the evaluation of fishing management.” Model suitability is but one element of the post-Lenfest report work on the scientific agenda for further consideration.

The ultimate question is whether the public, press and fisheries managers will pay attention as fisheries scientists pursue the important questions the Lenfest report raised, but did not resolve. The situation is reminiscent of the debate that occurred following publication by Dr. Boris Worm and other scientists of a 2006 report in Science suggesting all fisheries could collapse by 2048. That report received the same sort of PR roll-out as the Lenfest forage fish report. (We understand Dr. Worm’s work also received Pew Charitable Trusts/Lenfest funding.)

In 2009, Drs. Worm, Ray Hilborn (not a co-author of the initial report), and 19 other scientists collaborated on a subsequent report in Science concluding that existing fishery management tools were reversing the claimed global trend of depletion for individual stocks, and the situation was not so dire as Dr. Worm originally forecast. To this day, though, Dr. Worm’s original report is presented in press and policy debates without mention of his even more significant subsequent collaborative work. We hope the Lenfest report on forage fish management represents one early element — but not the final word — in consideration of the important topic it addresses.

Read the op-ed at National Fisherman

May 26 2012

Point/Counterpoint: Monterey Harbormaster: No need to massively limit forage fishing


Note: A shorter version is scheduled to appear in the Monterey Herald.

By Steve Scheiblauer, Harbormaster for the city of Monterey

More than 150 years ago, immigrant Chinese fishermen launched sampans into the chilly waters of Monterey Bay to capture squid. The Bay also lured fishermen from Sicily and other Mediterranean countries, who brought round-haul nets to fish for sardines.

This was the beginning of the largest fishery in the western hemisphere — California’s famed “wetfish” industry, imprinted on our collective conscience by writers like John Steinbeck.

Who doesn’t remember Cannery Row?

It was the plentiful schools of fish — especially sardines that stretch from the Gulf of California to Alaska during cycles of abundance — that provided the opportunity for generations of enterprising fishing families to prosper. These families helped build not only Monterey, but the ports of many other California cities, like San Diego, San Francisco and San Pedro — the fishing hub of Los Angeles.

But now, this historic industry ì named for the fish that were canned wet from the sea — is under attack by extremist groups who claim overfishing is occurring. That allegation is false; fishermen have long recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both people and fish.

When the sardine resource began its storied decline in the late 1940s, wetfish fishermen levied an assessment on their catch and contributed to the beginning of the California Cooperative Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI).

A cooperative effort between the National Marine Fisheries Service, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Department of Fish and Game, CalCOFI now is one of the preeminent research efforts worldwide.

Research has since documented the dynamic fluctuations in coastal pelagic “wetfish” stocks, including sardine and anchovy, which alternate their cycles of abundance — sardines favoring warm water epochs and anchovy preferring cold.

Core samples from an anaerobic trench in the Southern California Bight found alternating layers of sardine and anchovy scales over a period of 1,400 years. Turns out, sardine stocks would have declined naturally even without fishing pressure.

Today the wetfish industry maintains its commitment to research with cooperative efforts ongoing for both sardine and squid.

Even though the canneries are gone due to their inability to compete on a now-global marketing stage, our wetfish industry is still the backbone of California’s fishing economy — responsible for more than 80 percent of the volume and more than 40 percent of dockside value in 2010.

Fast forward to earlier this month, when an in-depth study by a panel of 13 hand-picked scientists provided recommendations on policies to protect forage fish — like anchovy, sardines and market squid — that larger species feed on. The study by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force concluded that overfishing of forage species is unfortunately occurring on a global scale.

But interestingly, these scientists also identified the West Coast as different, noting that California is “ahead of other parts of the world in how it manages some forage fish.” The region has “stricter monitoring and more conservative limits that could serve as a buffer against future crashes.”

The Lenfest Report provides a strong case that forage fish are managed better in California and the Northern California Current than anywhere else in the world. Overall, forage fisheries here account for less than two percent of total forage production (including both fished and unfished stocks), leaving 98 percent for other marine life.

Knowledgeable people understand that this is no accident. Fishing families have worked and are working with regulators to conserve California’s fisheries and coastal waters.

In fact, after a 20-year moratorium on sardine fishing, California adopted strict fishing regulations when the sardine resource rebounded. The federal government assumed management of coastal pelagic species in 1999 and approved a visionary management strategy for the west coast “forage” fish harvest, maintaining at least 75 percent of the fish in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass. The sardine protection rate is even higher at about 90 percent.

Even so, some environmental groups are calling for deep and unnecessary cutbacks in sardine fishing in California, as well as substantial harvest reductions in other forage fish fisheries, including herring, anchovies and squid.

Touting studies with faulty calculations, activists are lobbying federal regulators to massively limit fishing, if not ban these fisheries outright.

Apparently the facts don’t matter to groups with an anti-fishing agenda. Their rhetoric leaves those not familiar with the fishing industry with the impression that overfishing is a huge problem in California.

We hope decision-makers will see through the rhetoric when developing harvest policy for California’s historic, and still important, wetfish fisheries.

Note: The opinion piece above was written to counterpoint an editorial that was also published  in The Salinas Californian. You can access the debate online via  TheCalifornian.