A draft assessment on Pacific sardine by NOAA Fisheries shows the stock remains overfished, which could lead to it remaining closed for commercial fishermen.
Officials estimate the sardine biomass will be 27,547 metric tons by this July, well below the 150,000 metric ton biomass necessary to reopen the stock for fishing. Anything less than 50,000 metric tons is considered overfished.
Sardines, a forage fish that serves as prey to a multitude of marine wildlife from Baja California, Mexico, to British Columbia, Canada, had a peak biomass of nearly 1.8 million metric tons in 2006, according to the assessment.
Geoff Shester, a senior scientist for Oceana who serves as its California campaign director, said the situation has led to a catastrophe for larger animals who face starvation without a primary food supply. It’s also led to an economic one for fishermen on the West Coast.
“We’ve been urging for an overhaul to the way sardine are managed for the last seven years,” Shester said in a statement. “It is critical to hold fishery managers accountable for exacerbating this modern-day sardine collapse and seek management changes to use best available science to learn from our mistakes.”
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to review the assessment and rule on its adoption at its April 12 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif.
Oceana will encourage the council to develop a rebuilding plan that would allow the stock to replenish. Once it becomes viable, the organization said it would support a sustainable fishery plan.
However, not everyone agrees with the draft assessment. In the council’s public comments section, bait company owners and fishermen contend the assessment does not reflect the actual stock.
James Gardner, who runs Oceanside Bait Co., said he’s seen a dramatic population boom in the waters between La Jolla and Dana Point in California.
“Five years ago, I could not say that, but since then the numbers and size classes have increased and we are seeing three to four different year classes in the same areas,” Gardner said in a written statement. “Fish congregate in areas where the condition they like is right, and the condition here has improved and the sardine stock is strong.”