US court determines government’s West Coast sardine rebuilding plan is unlawful

A photo of Pacific sardines being harvested
Pacific sardines being harvested | Photo courtesy of Gregg Yan/Oceana
4 Min

A U.S. district court has ruled that NOAA Fisheries’ plan for rebuilding sardine populations along the West Coast is unlawful, ordering the agency to develop a new plan.

Conservation group Oceana, represented by Earthjustice, first sued NOAA Fisheries in 2021 after it become clear Pacific sardine populations had collapsed despite the government’s rebuilding plan. From 2006 to 2020, the population dropped by more than 98 percent, according to Oceana. In 2019, NOAA Fisheries placed Pacific sardines on its overfished list.

NOAA Fisheries adopted a management plan to rebuild the population, but Oceana claimed that the plan kept the current management measures in place and ignored its own science.

“The Fisheries Service’s repeated endorsement of an inadequate rebuilding plan based on status quo measures was mind-bogglingly shortsighted and not only ignored its own scientists but also failed to learn the lessons of history,” Oceana Senior Scientist and California Campaign Director Geoff Shester said.

Now, a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California judge has ruled that the federal government’s rebuilding plan was based on a faulty approach and did not adequately consider the environmental impacts of its plan under the National Environmental Policy Act.

This “ruling is hopefully the first step to finally rebuilding sardines to help ensure that whales, sea lions, brown pelicans, salmon, and other ocean animals will be able to find enough food to eat while also providing for future commercial fishing opportunities,” Shester said. “We’re grateful that the court followed the science and recognized the need for a real plan with enforceable catch limits that will rebuild Pacific sardines for a healthy, abundant, and resilient ocean.”

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