Posted by: Shark Boat - R/V Sea Watch | April 12, 2015

Repost of Monterey Herald on the Sardine Collapse

The following is a repost of an article in the Monterey Herald on the Sardine Collapse on the West Coast.

Geoffrey Shester: Urgent need to overhaul sardine fishery management

By Geoffrey Shester

Guest commentary

History repeats as the Pacific sardine population collapses and California’s iconic ocean wildlife feels the impacts. The Pacific sardine population has collapsed 90 percent since 2007 and the fishery has been overfishing during this decline. As a result, sea lions and seabirds are starving and one of California’s most lucrative fisheries must soon shut down.

The federal government’s latest assessment shows not only that the West Coast sardine population has crashed, but also that the catch has exceeded “maximum sustainable yield” fishing rates for the last three years. This meets the definition of overfishing under federal law. The sardine fishery has landed over 17,500 metric tons this season, while the new assessment shows the overfishing level to be less than 16,000 metric tons. Overfishing is happening right now. The cause: overly optimistic predictions and inadequate management safeguards. Sadly, in-the-water indications such as starving sea lions and pelicans did not change either management or fishing behavior.

Federal scientists warned of a collapsing Pacific sardine population in 2012 and the parallels between high fishing rates during the Cannery Row era of the 1930s and ‘40s and today. Last year, the same scientists pointed out that the U.S. is failing to account for catches in Mexico and Canada, leading to excessive coastwide fishing rates. Fishery managers ignored the warning signs and went on with business as usual.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have implicated a lack of sardines as a primary cause for the dramatic sea lion starvation. Over 70 percent of all pups are expected to die of starvation this year. Yet NOAA fails to connect the dots to fishing. We’ve heard everything from the sardines are hiding in the kelp, to the water being too warm, to they are too far offshore and too deep, to they are too shallow. The fact of the matter is that the sardine population has collapsed. Changing ocean conditions are a driver, but overfishing pushed the stock over the edge.

The solutions are simple. First, fishery managers must take emergency action to immediately close the sardine fishery. Every additional ton of sardines removed right now further worsens the collapse with long-term impacts. Second, fundamental changes to sardine management must be made to provide marine wildlife with adequate forage and to prevent future overfishing. This means suspending the sardine fishery sooner before the stock declines to such low levels and better accounting for international fishing of this population.

A new scientific study published Monday confirms that fishing exacerbates natural forage fish population crashes. While sardine abundance fluctuates with ocean conditions, fishing rates that are sustainable under favorable ocean conditions will devastate a population when conditions become less productive. Managers irresponsibly failed to pull in the reins on fishing despite less productive ocean conditions and a documented sardine collapse.

Overfishing could have devastating consequences to our ecosystem and fisheries for decades to come. After the Cannery Row collapse, sardines didn’t come back for over 20 years and they never returned to the abundance observed in the 1930s.

How many times will fishery managers make the same mistakes before fixing the underlying problem? Rather than fighting over who can catch the last sardines, we urge the industry and decision-makers to leave more forage fish in the water, and to only allow fishing when the sardine population is at higher, more productive levels. With a fluctuating sardine population, the industry needs to adapt. Whether those changes are prompted by fishery managers or because the fish are gone will ultimately make the difference between a healthy ocean ecosystem and one that we have permanently impaired.

Geoffrey Shester is California Campaign Director for Oceana in Monterey.

Here is the link to the Article:

http://www.montereyherald.com/opinion/20150411/geoffrey-shester-urgent-need-to-overhaul-sardine-fishery-management

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