Posts Tagged Pacific sardine fishery

Apr 10 2020

Pacific council votes for status quo on California sardine fishery

A purse seiner off the California coast. California Wetfish Producers Association video image.


Regional managers are sticking with a 4,000 metric ton catch target for the 2020-2021 Pacific sardine fishery, after hearing from environmental groups who wanted a lower catch limit, and fishermen who say stock assessments discount inshore biomass.

“One thing everyone agrees on is the need to improve the sardine stock assessment,” said Marc Gorelnik, vice chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which voted on sardine management measures during an April 6 council session – conducted remotely online in accordance with state coronavirus public health restrictions.

The upcoming season starting July 1 will have the same 4,000-ton target as the 2019-2020 season, after the council weighed reports from its scientific and statistical committee, sardine management team and advisors, and comments from the public.

Environmental groups wanted the council to lower the catch target to “buffer” the sardine stock and its role as a forage species for other marine life. The California Wetfish Producers Association has pressed its case that the stock assessment – based largely on NOAA surveys – is inadequate because it fails to account for fish inshore, where the group has advocated doing a new survey.

“We greatly appreciate the expressions of concern from the management team and advisory subpanel, and the council’s action based on those concerns,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, the association’s executive director, in a statement after the council meeting. “This conflict is between what fishermen say is out there, based on what they see, and what biologists say, based on insufficient science.”

Fishermen contend their observations and independent scientific surveys have documented sardine recruitment and growing abundance since 2015, while the 2020 stock assessment reported no evidence of recruitment.

“The model used to predict biomass has not updated the age data from the fishery since 2015, because the directed fishery has been closed since that time,” according to the association. The council also voted this week to support the group’s application to NMFS for an exempted fishing permit, to allow on a closely controlled directed fishing effort to capture sardine schools throughout the year.

As proposed the cooperative project would use the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to sample and age all the landings and provide that data for the next stock assessment.

Fishermen and managers are also at odds over the definition of the California sardine stocks, where fish found in ocean temperatures are identified as a southern stock extending from waters off Mexico.

“These fish are subtracted from the ‘northern’ sardine stock assessment,” according to the association. “This assumption and current management policy have frustrated fishermen, especially in Southern California, because all catches are deducted from the ‘northern’ sardine harvest limit.”

If the northern sardine stock assessment was reflective of sardine abundance reported by fishermen in year-round waters the species would not be considered overfish, the group says.

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Apr 12 2017

Sardines off the menu again for West Coast fishers

Sea birds fly out to greet the Maria T. returning from an overnight fishing trip off the Palos Verdes Peninsula to catch sardines in April 2007. (File photo)


Fishing for Pacific sardines in California has been banned for the third year in a row.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Monday afternoon in Sacramento to close the fishery through June 30, 2018 because the population limit of 150,000 metric tons wasn’t met.

Researchers estimate that only about 87,000 metric tons of the oil-rich fish are now swimming around off the coast.

The decision blocks commercial fishers in San Pedro, Long Beach and elsewhere across the West Coast from anything other than small numbers of incidental takes. While sardines don’t command the high price of California shellfish, their plentiful numbers and popularity make them one of the state’s most-caught finfish.

But fishery managers say there’s reason to believe sardines are much more plentiful than studies have found.

Dept. of Fish and Game agent Eric Kingsbury collects a random sample of fish from a sardine catch in San Pedro. The fish will be analyzed and entered into a database in efforts to monitor the health of the marine ecosystem. (File photo)

Flawed count?

NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center deputy director Dale Sweetnam said the acoustic-trawl method that researchers use to estimate the number of sardines is in the process of being improved to take into account other areas closer to shore.

The count is done from a large NOAA ship that surveys the entire West Coast by sampling schools of fish, and then bounces sound waves off of them to create a diagram that estimates the size.

But the ship is too large to go into harbors or coastal areas where sardines like to congregate.

“There are questions about the acoustic detector being on the bottom of the ship — how much of the schools in the upper water columns are missed by the acoustics,” Sweetnam said. “Also, the large NOAA ship can’t go in shallow waters, but most of the sardine fishery is very close to shore.”

The fisheries service will soon employ a Department of Fish and Wildlife plane, along with drones, to survey coastal areas for sardines.

“It will take some time because we’re going to have to determine a scientific sampling scheme,” Sweetnam said. “We’re starting this collaborative work with the fishing industry to extend our sampling grid-lines to shore.”


Ocean activists cheer closure

However, environmental activists cheered the decision to close the sardine fishery for a third season.

Oceana, a worldwide conservation advocacy organization, blames the sardine population decline on overfishing.

“Over the last four years we’ve witnessed starved California sea lion pups washing up on beaches and brown pelicans failing to produce chicks because moms are unable to find enough forage fish,” said Oceana campaign manager Ben Enticknap.

“Meanwhile, sardine fishing rates spiked right as the population was crashing. Clearly the current sardine management plan is not working as intended and steps must be taken to fix it.”

Industry representatives, however, argue that fishers are reliable environmental stewards and that they are just as eager as environmental activists to protect the long-term survival of marine species.

California fishers were able to replace sardine takes with increased numbers of squid in recent years. This year, promising anchovy stocks and other fish may keep the industry solvent.

California Wetfish Producers Association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele said fishermen are frustrated.

“Fishermen are just ready to pull their hair out because there’s so many sardines and we can’t target them,” said Pleschner-Steele. “I’m relieved that the Southwest Fisheries Science Center acknowledges problems with the current stock assessment and has promised to work with the fishermen to develop a cooperative research plan to survey the near-shore area that is now missed. Unfortunately, this does not help us this year.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional comments from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center deputy director Dale Sweetnam.

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