Posts Tagged Pacific Sardine Rebuilding Plan

Sep 23 2020

US panel votes to keep options open in Pacific sardine fishery rebuild plan

At least 100 commercial harvesters of sardines on the US west coast as well as lots of processors and many others that count on their landings appear to have escaped last week what could’ve been a painful blow.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted unanimously, 14-0, to support a rebuilding plan for northern Pacific sardines that gives it the option to keep the maximum quota at 4,000 metric tons per year or to move it up or down depending on the biomass. It was one of three alternatives recommended by the council’s Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Management Team.

One of the other two alternatives, which was favored by conservationists, would’ve instead limited the acceptable catch limit (ACL) to 5% of the biomass, while a third option would’ve allowed zero harvests of the species, essentially shutting down the fishery.

Based on the CPS management team’s estimates, the 5% methodology would’ve resulted in an ACL of just 1,414t during the current fishing season, about a third as much as is currently allowed. However, it’s worth noting that actual landings of northern Pacific sardines off the US West Coast have ranged between 2,063t and 2,505t over the last five years.

Pacific sardines. Photo: NOAA Fishwatch

As many as 63 harvesters are active CPS federal entry permittees and another 40 are state-authorized limited entry permittees in Oregon and Washington, according to Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association (CWPA).

Also, because sardines are commonly landed as bycatch, following the conservationist’s preferred approach could’ve resulted in sardines becoming much more of a choke species and interrupting the harvests of Pacific mackerel, market squid, northern anchovy, pink shrimp and Pacific whiting. Such harvesters now have a 20% per weight incidental catch rate, which was dropped last year from a rate of 45%, Pleschner-Steele noted in a recent email exchange with Undercurrent News.

But most imperiled by the prospect of the 5% approach, she said, would be the west coast live bait industry. It supplies recreational harvesters, accounts for $602 million in annual sales and is credited for providing 5,000 jobs.

What comes next

The move by the PFMC has been anticipated since July 2019. That’s when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) notified the council that the biomass of sardines’ northern subpopulation was found to have fallen below the 50,000t threshold that — under the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) — triggers the creation of a rebuilding plan within 15 months.

Now that the council has voted, a hew fishery management plan must be implemented within two years and the rebuilding plan must take less than 10 years to reach its goal unless environmental conditions interfere. Shortly after the PFMC sends its recommendations to NMFS, the agency can be expected to publish them in the Federal Register and take comments. It’s rare for NMFS to not follow a council’s advice.

Regardless, harvesters need not worry about the catch limit being changed for the current Pacific sardine season, which began July 1, 2020, and runs until June 30, 2021. Nor is it likely the 2021-2022 ACL will be reduced as a result of the latest action, though the council might be more conservative when that’s set as expected in April 2021, a PFMC staffer advised.

Cannery Row in Monterey, California. The area was renamed after the setting in John Steinbeck’s famous 1945 novel. Photograph on Shutterstock.

CWPA’s Pleschner-Steele, whose group represents both harvesters and processors, was among those pleased with the outcome. She was one of about 17 witnesses to testify in favor of the first alternative during the council meeting, held online because of pandemic concerns.

“The council’s unanimous decision to support the management team’s recommendations shows that they understand reality, the big picture. Our sardine harvest policy already has a built-in rebuilding plan,” said Pleschner-Steele in an opinion article published after the vote, noting how the PFMC closed the main directed fishery in 2015 and sharply reduced incidental harvest rates in 2019.

“Further cuts would drive many fishing businesses out of business, and we appreciate the council’s acknowledgment of that prospect,” she said.

Still from the video “Sardines in California: Fishery in Crisis” by Saving Seafood

The northern Pacific sardines occupy the US Pacific Coast from Southeast Alaska to the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula and are distinguished from two other groups: sardines from the southern Baja Peninsula to southern California and those in Mexico’s Gulf of California. However, Pleschner-Steele argued that many of the sardines being caught are really sardines from Mexico that have migrated north and shouldn’t be counted against the northern sardine cap.

The CPS management team had advised the council also that overfishing was not what was reducing the sardines biomass, putting more of the blame on recruitment.

“Falling below [minimum stock size threshold] triggered an overfished designation; however, overfishing has not been occurring for this stock, as Pacific sardine catch has been well below both the [acceptable biological catch] and the [annual overfishing limit],” the team said.

Learning from the decline of Cannery Row

Three conservation groups testified in favor of the more stringent alternative, including Oceana, Wild Oceans and the Pew Oceans Campaign.  They disagreed with the harvesters, as might have been expected, saying the council has ignored a 2020 study by federal fishery scientists that determined the sardine population has declined 98% since 2006 to instead take a “status quo management” approach.

Credit: Perla Berant Wilder/Shutterstock.com

They noted how the small, oily fish are an important food source for humpback whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, brown pelicans and larger fish like tunas and sharks. They suggested the council pay more heed to the conservation actions that contributed to the infamous sardine crash that ended the iconic Cannery Row era more than 60 years ago.

“Fishery managers have failed to learn from the mistakes of history, and if they don’t act soon, we’ll be doomed to repeat them and continue on an irresponsible pathway that will devastate the sardine population and its prospects for recovery,” said Geoff Shester, a senior scientist at Oceana, in a statement issued after the vote. “It is disappointing that again California wildlife officials, federal managers, and the fishing industry are disregarding the science in order to avoid making hard choices. Today’s decision is a failure of responsible fishery management.”

Pleschner-Steele countered that the great sardine decline of the late 1940s involved harvesters catching 50% or more of the standing stock, while today’s harvest amounts to only 0.6% of the population.

Also, she noted, NOAA research ships are too large to survey near shore, where most fishing occurs in California. For the past few years, fishermen have testified to a growing abundance of sardines on their fishing grounds yearlong, she said.

In fact, fishery representatives are asking the council for a review of the rebuilding plan in 2021 as soon as possible after the next coastwide sardine survey, which was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The next survey in 2021 will, for the first time, include nearshore waters, in a collaborative effort using fishing industry vessels, she noted.

Contact the author jason.huffman@undercurrentnews.com


Original post: https://www.undercurrentnews.com/

Sep 18 2020

Pacific Fishery Management Council Approves Pacific Sardine Rebuilding Plan

BUELLTON, CA / ACCESSWIRE / September 17, 2020 /

Thousands of fishermen, processors and allied fishing businesses along the west coast thank the Pacific Fishery Management Council for taking final action on a rebuilding plan for the “northern” stock of Pacific sardine that achieves the balance between conservation and fishing communities mandated by the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

This action was required by the MSA after the “northern” sardine stock was declared “overfished” in 2019, when the biomass estimate fell below 50,000 mt. The Council decision came after many months of hard work by stock assessment scientists, modelers, the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Management Team and the Council’s Science and Statistical Committee (SSC), to build and analyze a Rebuilder model based on the 2020 “northern” sardine stock assessment, which covered a period of low recruitment. The herculean effort attempted to forecast future sardine population growth and rebuilding time scenarios under various harvest alternatives.

“The Council’s unanimous decision to support the Management Team’s recommendations shows that they understand reality, the big picture,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, Executive Director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, representing California fishermen and processors. “Our sardine harvest policy already has a built-in rebuilding plan. The Council closed the main directed fishery in 2015, and sharply reduced incidental harvest rates last year. Further cuts would drive many fishing businesses out of business, and we appreciate the Council’s acknowledgement of that prospect.”

The environmental group Oceana immediately issued a press release decrying the Council action, accusing fishery managers of irresponsible mismanagement. Oceana and other environmental activists based their arguments on the Rebuilder model that scientists, the Management Team and the Council all acknowledged did not reflect reality because it could not model the environmental cycles driving sardine productivity, nor could it predict the future. Further, it assumed that the total harvest allowance was caught every year.

Oceana’s accusation, “fishery managers have failed to learn from the mistakes of history,” does not pass the straight face test when all the facts are presented. During the great sardine decline in the late 1940s, the historic sardine fishery harvested 50 percent or more of the standing stock. Today’s sardine fishery harvest amounts to only 0.6 percent of the northern sardine population — very close to 0 US harvest, which was modeled as Alternative 2, and showed disastrous economic impacts to fishing communities in California and the West Coast because it curtailed major fisheries. Commercial fisheries that take sardines incidentally include market squid, anchovy and mackerel in California and Pacific whiting, pink shrimp and groundfish along the entire West Coast. In addition, the live bait fishery relies on sardines and serves a billion-dollar recreational fishing enterprise.

The Council decision illuminates a dicey problem: sardine fishery management policy assumes that two sardine stocks exist along the west coast and Mexico, divided by a temperature barrier at about 62 degrees F. But the Council manages only the “northern” stock, and in recent years, stock assessments have subtracted thousands of tons of sardines found in waters warmer than 62 degrees on the assumption that those were “southern” sardines that migrated up from Mexico. Stock assessments also are now based on annual NOAA summer acoustic trawl (AT) surveys that begin in the Pacific Northwest and move south, not reaching California waters until late August, when water temperatures are typically above 62 degrees. Thus, most California sardines are now omitted from “northern” stock assessments on the assumption they are “southern” sardines. Also, NOAA research ships are too large to survey near shore, where most fishing occurs in California. For the past few years, fishermen have testified to a growing abundance of sardines on their fishing grounds yearlong. But complicating matters even further, for management purposes, all sardines landed are subtracted from the “northern” sardine harvest allowance, regardless of sea temperature. This catch-22 sets the backstory for the Council’s final decision.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions the Council meeting was conducted via webinar, and parade of fishermen, seafood processors and community representatives testified to the hardship they are already experiencing under current restrictions. They all voiced unanimous support for Alternative 1, “status quo” fishing regulations. The Management Team also recommended Alternative 1 as the most balanced and flexible choice. Environmental groups testified as well, and all supported Alternative 3, a static five percent harvest rate hard-wired for close to 20 years, based on Rebuilder model analysis, that would have cut current harvest levels nearly in half, precipitating harsh economic impacts.

In their deliberations, Council members highlighted the flexibility of the “status quo” sardine Harvest Control Rule (HCR) that sets harvest limits based on current environmental conditions. They concurred with scientists and the Management Team that the Rebuilder model does not reflect reality; it can’t model the natural high and low productivity cycles of sardines. Council members recognized that the HCR’s precautionary harvest limits are designed to provide forage for predators. Respecting both the need for conservation and the needs of fishing communities, Washington Councilmember Phil Anderson commented that he would rather provide a little more harvest now to keep fishing communities viable. Otherwise they might not survive into the future. Council chair Marc Gorelnik summarized discussion with his comment, “Mother Nature bats last.”

Scientists and Council members alike recognize that environmental conditions are key to stock rebuilding, as they have been for eons even without fishing. The Management Team pointed out that actual fishery catches in the past five years, since the main directed fishery was closed, have averaged only about 2,300 metric tons, far short of the allowed annual catch target, and most of the catch is “southern” stock sardines. The Council also recognized that the current HCR equates to a built-in rebuilding plan because it has flexibility to reduce catches in relation to the biomass, and also includes automatic actions to further restrict fishing in low abundance years. The Council has already reduced the fishery as far as feasibly possible. Now Mother Nature needs to do the rest.

All things considered, the Council made the proper rebuilding plan decision, following the MSA mandates to specify a time period for rebuilding that is as short as possible, taking into account the biology of the stock and needs of fishing communities. The MSA does allow directed fishing to continue when rebuilding an overfished stock, and does not require instant recovery or the most drastic action be taken. Optimum Yield is a long-term goal. The MSA also allows flexibility in developing a rebuilding plan. The plan will be updated when new information is available – nothing is cast in stone.

In light of evidence of recruitment and the abundance of sardines that California fishermen have been reporting inshore of AT surveys, fishery representatives are asking for a review of the rebuilding plan in 2021 as soon as possible after the next coastwide sardine survey, which was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, and will for the first time in 2021 include a survey of nearshore waters, in a collaborative effort using fishing industry vessels. The fishing industry is dedicated to help improve the science underpinning stock assessments. “If stock assessments were accurate,” said Corbin Hanson, a highline fisherman who has fished sardines as well as other CPS for more than a decade, “sardines would not be declared ‘overfished.'”

PRESS CONTACT:

Diane Pleschner-Steele
diane@californiawetfish.org
(805) 693-5430

SOURCE: California Wetfish Producers Association

ReleaseID: 606630

 

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