Posts Tagged sardine research

Jun 23 2015

Letters: Grossman Article on Reasons for Sardine Decline Inaccurate

— Posted with permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM. Please do not republish without their permission. —


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Letters] – June 23, 2015

Editor’s Note: The following letter from D.B. Pleschner was reviewed and supported by Mike Okoniewski of Pacific Seafoods.

To the Editor: I take exception to your statement:  “The author of this piece, Elizabeth Grossman, buys into the argument, but in a fair article.”

In no way was this “fair” reporting.   She selectively quotes (essentially misquotes) both Mike Okoniewski and me (and this after I spent more than an hour with her on the phone, and shared with her the statements of Ray Hilborn, assessment author Kevin Hill and other noted scientists.) She does not balance the article but rather fails to emphasize the NOAA best science in favor of the Demer-Zwolinski paper, published in NAS by NOAA scientists who did not follow protocol for internal review before submitting to NAS (which would have caught many misstatements before they saw print).

NOAA’s Alec MacCall later printed a clarification (in essence a rebuttal) in NAS, which pointed out the errors and stated that the conclusions in the Demer paper were “one man’s opinion”.

Oceana especially has widely touted that paper, notwithstanding the fact that the SWFSC Center Director also needed to testify before the PFMC twice, stating that the paper’s findings did not represent NOAA’s scientific thinking.

After the Oceana brouhaha following the sardine fishery closure, NOAA Assistant Administrator Eileen Sobeck issued a statement. SWFSC Director Cisco Werner wrote to us in response to our request to submit Eileen’s statement to the Yale and Food & Environment Reporting Network to set the record straight:

“The statement from the NMFS Assistant Administrator (Eileen Sobeck) was clear about what the agency’s best science has put forward regarding the decline in the Pacific Sardine population. Namely, without continued successful recruitment, the population of any spp. will decline – irrespective of imposed management strategies.”

It is also  important to note that we are working closely with the SWFSC and have worked collaboratively whenever possible.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would again post Sobeck’s statement to counter the inaccurate implications and misstatements in  Elizabeth Grossman’s piece.

Diane Pleschner-Steele
California Wet Fish Producers Association

PS:   I also informed Elizabeth Grossman when we talked that our coastal waters are now teeming with both sardines and anchovy, which the scientific surveys have been unable to document  because the research ships survey offshore and the fish are inshore.

Sobeck’s statement follows:

Researchers, Managers, and Industry Saw This Coming: Boom-Bust Cycle Is Not a New Scenario for Pacific Sardines
A Message from Eileen Sobeck, Head of NOAA Fisheries
Apri 23, 2015

Pacific sardines have a long and storied history in the United States. These pint-size powerhouses of the ocean have been — on and off — one of our most abundant fisheries. They support the larger ecosystem as a food source for other marine creatures, and they support a valuable commercial fishery.

When conditions are good, this small, highly productive species multiplies quickly. It can also decline sharply at other times, even in the absence of fishing. So it is known for wide swings in its population.

Recently, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council received scientific information as a part of the ongoing study and annual assessment of this species. This information showed the sardine population had continued to decline.

It was not a surprise. Scientists, the Council, NOAA, and the industry were all aware of the downward trend over the past several years and have been following it carefully. Last week, the Council urged us to close the directed fishery on sardines for the 2015 fishing season.  NOAA Fisheries is also closing the fishery now for the remainder of the current fishing season to ensure the quota is not exceeded.

While these closures affect the fishing community, they also provide an example of our effective, dynamic fishery management process in action. Sardine fisheries management is designed around the natural variability of the species and its role in the ecosystem as forage for other species. It is driven by science and data, and catch levels are set far below levels needed to prevent overfishing.

In addition, a precautionary measure is built into sardine management to stop directed fishing when the population falls below 150,000 metric tons. The 2015 stock assessment resulted in a population estimate of 97,000 metric tons, below the fishing cutoff, thereby triggering the Council action.

The sardine population is presently not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. However, the continued lack of recruitment of young fish into the stock in the past few years would have decreased the population, even without fishing pressure. So, these closures were a “controlled landing”. We saw where this stock was heading several years ago and everyone was monitoring the situation closely.

This decline is a part of the natural cycle in the marine environment. And if there is a new piece to this puzzle — such as climate change — we will continue to work closely with our partners in the scientific and management communities, the industry, and fishermen to address it.


Read/Download Elizabeth Grossman’s article: Some Scientists and NGO’s Argue West Coast Sardine Closure was too Late

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Apr 16 2015

Council Votes to Close 2015-2016 Pacific Sardine Fishery

Regarding Council action yesterday to close what’s left of the 2014-15 sardine fishery, the Council recommended that NMFS close the directed fishery in the fastest way possible, using current rule making authority.   This action stopped short of declaring an emergency, which would require justification and new rule making which could take more than a month.  The Council explanation was that this closure was recommended as an added layer of precaution, considering the recent sharp decline observed in the sardine biomass due to lack of recruitment in the past few years.  Given the recent uptick in directed landings in both OR and CA, it is expected that the closure could be implemented in about a week.

 This action, as well as the 2015 stock assessment, did not – and could not under current rules – take into consideration the recent spawning activity observed off the Oregon coast and the small fish now appearing in both California and Oregon, an indication that recruitment is now occurring.



Rohnert Park, California – The Pacific Fishery Management Council today announced the closure of the 2015-16 Pacific sardine directed fishery, beginning July 1.Pacific Council members heard from scientists that the abundance forecast for the 2015-2016 season, scheduled to start July 1, was significantly below the 150,000 metric ton threshold for a directed fishery. They also heard testimony from fishery participants and environmental groups before reaching a decision to close the directed fishery. Small amounts of sardines may be taken incidental to target fishing on other stocks, and a much reduced harvest amount was allocated to the Quinault Indian Nation along the mid-Washington coast.

“While this is a sad day for all those dependent on a healthy sardine fishery, it is actually a good thing that this Council is addressing the problem directly, something you don’t always see across the nation or certainly, internationally,” said Council member Frank Lockhart of National Marine Fisheries Service. “This Council cutback on salmon with extensive closures a decade or so ago, and the Klamath and Sacramento stocks rebuilt fairly quickly. This Council also cut back on lingcod and other groundfish catches in the recent past, and those stocks are also rebuilt. This action today paves the way for the sardine population to rebuild as soon as the ocean cycles permit.”

Sardines are subject to large natural population swings associated with ocean conditions. In general, sardines thrive in warm water regimes, such as those of the 1930s, and decline in cool water years, like the 1970s. After reaching a recent year peak of about one million metric tons in 2006, the sardine biomass has dropped to an estimated 97,000 metric tons this year. (Biomass is the (estimated) weight of a stock of fish.)

Council Vice Chair Herb Pollard said, “The Council’s Fishery Management Plan has done its job. When the sardine stock declines to this point, the directed commercial fishery stops. This is a testimony to the precautionary provisions the Pacific Council has locked into our management regime.”

“We know boats will be tied up, but the goal here is to return this to a productive fishery,” said Council member David Crabbe.

The Council takes a precautionary approach to managing Pacific sardines. When the fish are abundant, more fishing is allowed; but as the stock size declines, the amount of allocated to harvest decreases. When the biomass is estimated at or below 150,000 metric tons, directed commercial fishing is shut down.

Although directed commercial fishing will close, the Council will allow up to 7,000 tons of sardines to account for small amounts taken as incidental catch in other fisheries (such as mackerel), live bait harvest, Tribal harvest, and research. However, if the allocated amount of incidental harvest is reached, those other fisheries will also be shut down.

On Wednesday, April 15, the Council will consider whether to take the additional step of making changes to the remaining months of the current season, which ends June 30.

The sardine biomass is assessed annually, and the fishing year runs July 1 through June 30. Although sardine fishing doesn’t generate the money that some other fisheries do, it is an important source of income for communities up and down the west coast.

Sardine productivity is generally linked to ocean temperatures, but it’s not a perfect relationship. For example, temperatures in the Southern California Bight have risen in the past two years, but we haven’t seen an increase in young sardines as expected.

The allowable harvest in recent years has been as high as 109,000 metric tons (2012), but has dropped as the biomass has dropped. In 2013 the harvest guideline was 66,495 mt, in 2014 it was 23,293 mt. Exvessel revenues were $21.5 million in 2012. Sardine exports were valued at $44 million in 2010 and $34.8 million in 2011.
Council Role

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 for the purpose of managing fisheries 3-200 miles offshore of the United States of America coastline. The Pacific Council recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

All Council meetings are open to the public.

Dec 16 2014

Some NGO’s cry foul over change to Calif. sardine management when it contradicts their view

Published by permission of SEAFOODNEWS.COM


SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Opinion] By D.B. Pleschner – December 16, 2014
(D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.)

Recently the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to change the sardine harvest control rule, increasing the upper limit of the sardine harvest fraction from 15 percent to 20 percent.

The decision came after an exhaustive set of scientific workshops and analysis involving more than 60 people, held over the past two years to respond to a research paper that suggested that sea surface temperature (SST) measured at Scripps Pier in Southern California, which had been employed as a proxy for sardine recruitment, was no longer correlated with recruitment success.

But apparently this fact was lost on environmental activists who cried foul to the media, claiming that sardines are crashing, and the management response to the crisis is to just fish harder.

Claims that the council voted for a more aggressive fishing rate miss the point: nothing could be further from the truth. But the truth is complicated.

We know that California’s sardine population is strongly influenced by ocean temperatures: warmer waters tend to increase sardine productivity, while colder waters tend to decrease it.

“The northern sardine stock has been declining for several years due to poor recruitment, and there is concern that it will decline further in the next couple of years,” says Dr. Richard Parrish, one of the authors of the original sardine control rule. “Although no one can predict the environmental conditions that will occur in the future, the pessimistic view is that the northern stock will continue to decline and the optimistic view is that the present warm water conditions will herald increased recruitment.”

“Whichever occurs first,” he adds, “the past, present and management team-recommended sardine harvest control rules were all designed to automatically regulate the exploitation rates both by reducing the quota and reducing the harvest rates as the stock declines, and by shutting down the fishery if the biomass falls below 150,000 mt.”

The original sardine analysis, made in 1998, was updated by a new analysis that found offshore sea temperatures slightly better correlated with sardine productivity than the measurements made at Scripps Pier. Population simulations made with the updated information that included the population increase in recent decades show that the sardine stock is about 50 percent more productive than thought in 1998. The management team therefore recommended raising the upper bound of fishing fraction from 15 percent to 20 percent to account for the new best available science.

But that doesn’t mean that the catch quota for the coming year will be raised. This is a long-term harvest control rule that simply follows better scientific modeling efforts.

The new rules will determine fishing rate just as before: If the temperature is cold, the harvest will be kept low; if the population size decreases, both the harvest rate and the allowable catch will automatically decrease. In fact, the new sardine harvest rule is actually more precautionary than the original rule it is replacing. It does this by producing an average long-term population size at 75 percent of the unfished size, leaving even more fish in the water, vs. 67 percent in the original rule. The original harvest rule reduced the minimum harvest rate to 5 percent during cold periods. The present, very complicated rule, has a minimum rate of 0 percent during cold periods.

What’s more, the harvest fraction will only be applied after subtracting 150,000 mt from the sardine biomass estimated in the next year’s stock assessment.

Bottom line: The California sardine may be the best-managed fishery of its type in the world — the poster fish for effective ecosystem-based management.

Subscribe to the Seafood News and read the original post here.

May 7 2014

Warmer ocean spurs feasting along coast


Warmer ocean spurs feasting along coast

Large schools of baitfish off the coast of Point Reyes, presenting a feast for birds and sea mammals and a strange sight for locals last month, may have been lured north and inland because of warmer ocean temperatures this year.

A fisheries scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it was too early to tell if the oceanographic conditions might indicate a coming El Niño, since those conditions can be highly variable from year to year; however, last month NOAA reported that the chances of an El Niño event kicking off by this summer exceed 50 percent.

An avian ecologist with Petaluma-based Point Blue said that “off the charts” numbers of pelicans in the area last month might also point to abnormal ocean conditions and a coming El Niño event.

El Niño is a weather event that occurs roughly every three to seven years, when sea surface temperatures in the middle or western Pacific warm by about 1 degree Fahrenheit; it can spur severe weather events around the world, including storms, floods and droughts. And not all El Niños are the same; some can be stronger, others weaker. The event can last from about nine months to two years. Although they are not caused by climate change, there is evidence that modern climate change is increasing their frequency and ferocity.

On April 19, countless big sardines laid trapped in tiny channels amid the mudflats of Bolinas Lagoon at low tide, drawing the attention of a local birder who watched pelicans gorge en masse for an hour or so. Bolinas resident Burr Heneman wrote to a North Bay birding listserv that he had only seen such a massive baitfish event in Bolinas a few times in the past 40 years, and never in the spring—only in July or August, and only with anchovies. He told the Light that the sardines have been in and around the lagoon for roughly a week before his sighting, and noted that others have seen sardines in Drakes Bay.

“Brown Pelicans swarmed the shallow channels, awkwardly using their bills and pouches as dip nets,” Mr. Heneman wrote. “The pelicans were so thick that the cormorants had trouble maneuvering among them. More dead or still-flopping sardines were on the mud flats than the gulls and terns could eat, though they kept trying. And the sardines I saw were so large (10”-12”?) that even the gulls were having trouble getting outside of them. Or else the gulls were just too full to get another fish down… A great show. An hour later, water covered the flats, and the action was over.”

Mary Jane Schramm, a spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which has jurisdiction over the Bolinas Lagoon, said last week that she has received reports of whales, dolphins and seabirds taking advantage of the unusually abundant baitfish in Bolinas Bay and off Duxbury Reef.

Large sardines typically spawn in southern California in spring and migrate up the California coast starting in April, but might not typically reach this area until June, said Russ Vetter, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. But the ocean as recently as two weeks ago was roughly two degrees warmer than is considered normal. Although within the past week he said waters have cooled down, the warmer waters could have both dissuaded the fish from traveling too far south over the winter and spurred the sardines to spawn earlier.

Reports early this year described a decline of the sardine fishery off the southern California coast, likely due to large-scale oceanographic cycles that switch every 20 or 30 years between favoring sardines or anchovies. Fishing crews reportedly struggled to find sardines and typically picked up larger and more mature ones when they caught any at all (so the presence of larger sardines in recent sightings here isn’t surprising).

Sardines don’t typically come so close to the coast when they pass through the area because of the inhospitable cold waters brought to the surface by upwelling. That’s the process by which winds from the northwest—combined with the south-flowing California current and the earth’s rotation—push surface water west and pull nutrient-rich cold water to the top. The nutrients and sunlight fuel the growth of algae, creating food for baitfish, which are then eaten by other sea life and birds.

In some areas along California’s coast, upwelling occurs in thinner bands. But off the coast of Point Reyes and a few other spots, such as Point Arena and Big Sur, it can extend out a few hundred miles, which accounts for the diversity of sea life around two nearby marine sanctuaries, Cordell Bank and the Farallones.

Although measurements by the Bodega Marine Lab in Bodega Bay show that upwelling began in March—within the normal range—there were fits and starts. There was a relaxation at the end of March, and water temperatures at Point Reyes were warm in the first half of April. But they cooled down by the end of the month, with recent nearshore winds, according to NOAA data provided by Ben Becker, a marine ecologist at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Mr. Vetter said that upwelling had generally begun late across the state, but it was too early to know whether California’s upwelling would be weak or normal this year, and that more will be known in another month or so. He added that weaker upwelling generally accompanies El Niño events.

Some of the birds that feasted on the sardines, such as gulls, are typically in the area at this time of year and took advantage of an easy meal. But an avian ecologist with Point Blue, Dave Shuford, wrote to the Light that the number of pelicans seen at Bolinas Lagoon was highly unusual for this time of year. That could reflect breeding failures elsewhere, he said, or it could be a harbinger for El Niño.

“Although occurrence of pelicans in the [hundreds] is not unprecedented in the Point Reyes area in April, the numbers seen the other day appear to be: [a friend] counted about 2,600 pelicans at Bolinas Lagoon on Sunday, which is off charts, I think, for April. Usually the early occurrence of pelicans in this area reflects warm water conditions like El Niño,” he wrote.

A professor of wildlife ecology at the University of California, Davis, Daniel Anderson, said he has heard of other unusual influxes of pelicans along the southern California coast.

A forthcoming scientific paper actually links the mild winter and drought on the West Coast and the frigid winter endured by those in the East both to climate change and a coming El Niño, the Associated Press reported Tuesday, although many scientists hesitate to link singular or very recent weather events to broad shifts like climate change.

View the original article:

Jul 17 2012

International Efforts to Assess the Status of Pacific Sardine Stocks

Fisheries Resources Division

Scientists from the U.S. and Canada are working together to strengthen Pacific sardine stock assessments.  SWFSC scientists conduct regular Pacific sardine stock assessments to determine harvest guidelines for this economically important species.  In May, Canadian and NMFS scientists, together with independent experts, considered how to integrate data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s West Coast Vancouver Island swept-area trawl survey (WCVI) into the Pacific sardine stock assessment.

Preliminary results of the review suggest that including the Canadian survey data could strengthen and enhance the U.S. stock assessment in the future, especially as the survey evolves. Inclusion of the Canadian survey into the assessment may provide valuable insights into the northern most extension of the Pacific sardine population, the largest size classes, and the timing and extent of migration during different years. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider whether to incorporate the Canadian data into the U.S. stock assessment based on the independent review results. The earliest the data could be incorporated would be for the 2014 fishing season.

For more information on SWFSC’s coastal pelagic research programs, please visit the Fisheries Research Division

Management information on Pacific sardine in U.S. waters may be found at the Council’s website:

Jun 12 2012

Sardine population growing significantly




Guest Commentary

Reading the recent opinion piece on this page by Oceana, one might think that sardines should be placed on the endangered species list. But in reality, this important fishery is doing just fine thanks to existing precautions.

The Oceana commentary, “Sardine population on verge of crash,” bases some of its allegations on a report by two National Marine Fisheries Service scientists. Yet Oceana fails to mention that those scientists deliberately omitted the most recent stock assessment and failed to submit their paper for internal review. That paper and its conclusions were later repudiated by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The fact is, sardine abundance trended significantly upward in 2011 and that led to the increase in sardine harvest quota in 2012.

California’s wetfish industry — named for the fish that were canned wet from the sea — is under attack by extremist groups like Oceana who claim overfishing is occurring. That allegation is false; fishermen have long recognized that a sustainable fishery was good for both people and fish.

Historically, sardines exhibited dynamic swings of a million tons up or down during the first decade of decline. We may be entering another such period, given the 30-year cycle of the stock. But the issue is scale. Sardine management policy is complicated because fishery managers now recognize these dynamics.

The sardines’ visionary harvest policy sets annual quotas far lower than the maximum sustainable catch allowed in most fisheries, and subtracts 150,000 metric tons from the population estimate, allowing for forage and uncertainty. According to the 2011 sardine stock assessment, the coast-wide harvest rate including Canada and Mexico was less than 15 percent of the biomass — decidedly NOT overfishing.

This precaution has been recognized by a host of respected scientists, including the “Little Fish, Big Impact” report referenced by Oceana. Another Oceana omission is found in Appendix E of that report:

“In the California Current only 2 percent of the annual production of forage fishes (including fished and unfished stocks) is taken by fishermen and 98 percent of the production goes to the other fishes, birds and marine mammals,” notes Richard Parrish, one of the most knowledgeable scientists on the west coast.

Oceana also asserts that fishermen have exceeded the squid quota. While it’s true that the total biomass of squid is unknown and likely unknowable (market squid range from Baja California to Alaska), the overfishing allegation is also decidedly false.

Squid are another dynamic stock that live, spawn and die in less than a year. The squid resource is actively managed by California with many precautionary regulations, including both weekend closures and marine reserves that have closed more than 30 percent of traditional squid fishing grounds.

Scientists know the squid’s abundance is driven primarily by environmental cycles like the highly productive cold-water conditions experienced in 2010-11. These boom years for squid fishing happen only once in a decade.

California’s historic wetfish fisheries are the backbone of our state’s fishing economy. In 2010, the wetfish complex — sardine, anchovy, mackerel, market squid — comprised more than 80 percent of the volume of all commercial fishery landings statewide, and 44 percent of dockside value.

The wetfish industry remains the lifeblood of Monterey’s fishing community, representing an even higher volume and value of all commercial landings.

The city of Monterey recognizes our precautionary fishery management and supports this historic industry. The City is working alongside California wetfish leaders, reputable environmental organizations, and respected scientists to recommend forage policy guidelines for the Fish and Game Commission.

Our recommendations integrate the protections now afforded these forage stocks by both the state and federal management — and are based on best-available science, rather than innuendo, deception and politics.

Diane Pleschner-Steele is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association.

Read the full article online on the Monterey Herald.

May 31 2012

Fish on Fridays: Long-Term Fishery Investments Starting to Pay Off

By Michael Conathan | Director of Oceans Policy at the Center for American Progress.

See which fish stocks were fully rebuilt in 2011.

Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual “Status of Stocks” report to Congress outlining the overall health of our nation’s fisheries. To the relatively small cadre of fish geeks (myself included), the release of this document is a major event. It lacks the panache of the Oscar nominations, but for us it is perhaps comparable to the way the 1 percent gets all giddy for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to shareholders.

NOAA’s report for 2011, similar to that of Warren Buffett’s financial powerhouse, continued its recent trend of positive returns. The topline numbers showed modest yet continued growth in the overall health of America’s fish populations. At the end of 2011, just 14 percent of fish stocks were subject to overfishing, and 21 percent were in an overfished state—down from 16 percent and 22 percent in 2010, respectively. (Recall this description of the difference between a stock that is “subject to overfishing” and one that is “overfished.”)

Yet the most impressive news to emerge from this year’s report was that six stocks have been declared fully rebuilt—more than in any other year—bringing the overall total of stocks rebuilt since 2000 to 27.

Despite these positive trends and all the feel-good stories the report has spawned (in more than 100 newspapers nationwide), correspondence in my personal inbox this week was dominated by references to a Washington Post Wonk Room blog post proclaiming boldly that it had found “The end of fish, in one chart.”

The chart in question comes from a wide-ranging World Wildlife Fund study on global biodiversity, and it displays the dramatic increase in global fishing pressure from 1950 to 2006. The blog piece goes on to reference an overpublicized doomsday scenario article published by lead author Dr. Boris Worm in 2006 in the journal Science. Worm’s study predicts the demise of global commercial fisheries by 2048. Ah, how the mass media truly loves a ticking clock.

The rest of that story, as I explained in an earlier column, is that Worm later collaborated with several other colleagues, including Dr. Ray Hilborn, on a follow-up article that Scienceran in 2009 showing a far rosier outlook on the future of the world’s fisheries—specifically that “conservation objectives can be achieved by merging diverse management actions, including catch restrictions, gear modification, and closed areas.” Sound management practices mean fishery rebuilding is possible.

And that’s precisely what we’re now seeing in domestic fisheries with the slow but steady recovery of fish populations. Our regulations are working—at least for the fish. Yet as always, we must continue to seek the balance between regulations that work for the fish and for the fishermen.

Hilborn hit this point perfectly with an op-ed he co-authored for The New York Times earlier this week with his colleague and wife, Ulrike Hilborn. Their point, similar to one I made in this series four weeks ago, is that when we as consumers eschew overfished fisheries that are in the process of rebuilding under strictly enforced science-based catch limits, we unnecessarily penalize fishermen who are acting in the best interests of the ecosystem, coastal communities, and our national economy.

Americans should not feel guilty about eating domestically produced seafood, as long as we keep strict regulations in place that reflect the best available science and that continue working toward the rebuilding goal achieved in 2011 by six different fish stocks.

 Read the full article on American Progress.

May 24 2012

California is Global Leader in Managing Forage Fish


Note: This article also appeared in the Santa Cruz SentinelNorth County TimesSalinas Californian, and online, on Saving Seafood and Science 2.0.




Written By Steve Scheiblauer


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 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 – 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.


Ed’s Note: Steve Scheiblauer is the harbmaster for the city of Monterey.


Read the full opinion piece online on Capital Weekly.

May 22 2012

Website – Seafood Health Facts: Making Smart Choices

The Seafood Health Facts website was recently updated to included a link to customizing seafood consumption information and also to provide guidance to a broader range of consumers.


The Seafood Health Facts site  includes current information on seafood nutrition/health, safety and market topics. It will help answer many commonly asked seafood safety questions that consumers and patients often ask health care providers and retailers.


Bookmark this great new resource!  It is a handy tool to help you become seafood savvy. Check it out at

The project was partially funded through a grant from the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S., Department of Agriculture.
Mar 26 2012

Estimated 1,000 Fishermen Rally for Reform in Protest Staged in Nation’s Capital

Recreational and commercial fishermen gather on Capitol Hill  on Wednesday to call for reform of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act. AP Photo 

Written By By Don Cuddy

Around 1,000 commercial and recreational fishermen from around the country gathered near the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to call attention to the regulatory difficulties facing the fishing industry on the East and West coasts.

The rally, billed as Keep Fishermen Fishing, was organized to seek reforms to the Magnuson Stevens Act, the law that governs fishing in federal waters.

Fishermen and industry groups have long complained that inflexible and onerous regulations are hampering their ability to fish and forcing some independent fishermen to abandon their traditional way of life.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell was among those who spoke at the rally. “There was a great show of support from the fishing community and a big turnout from Congress,” he said. Several senators and around a dozen House members spoke at the gathering, according to the mayor, including a large New England delegation that included Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and Reps. Barney Frank, John Tierney and Bill Keating.

Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, running against Keating for Congress in the 9th District, also spoke.

Mitchell, who estimated the crowd at 1,000, focused his remarks on the need to keep fishermen in New England on the water by adopting greater flexibility in the rigid timelines established for rebuilding fish stocks.

“We need regulations geared to the reality at sea and we need more money for research and better stock assessments,” he said.

Read the rest of the article on SouthCoastToday.