West Coast sar­dine pop­u­la­tions long sink­ing


SAR­DINES off the West Coast have con­tin­ued on a steep de­cline, with pop­u­la­tions this sum­mer fore­cast to be down 93 per­cent from a 2007 peak, ac­cord­ing to a draft as­sess­ment from the Na­tional Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice.

The sar­dines are a key for­age food for sea lions, salmon and many other species, as well as a source of in­come for com­mer­cial fish­er­men.

In some years, sar­dines have been worth from $ 10 mil­lion to more than $20 mil­lion an­nu­ally to a West Coast fleet.

Last year the sar­dine im­plo­sion was so se­vere that the Pa­cific Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil voted to call off the sea­son that was sched­uled to start in July for West Coast fleets, in­clud­ing those in Wash­ing­ton state.

This year, as the coun­cil meets this spring, it will have more bad news on sar­dines to re­view.

The stocks of sar­dines aged one year or older are fore­cast to be 64,422 met­ric tons, about a third lower than the 2015 as­sess­ment.

“Pa­cific sar­dines are an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant eco­nomic and eco­log­i­cal ocean re­source,” said Ge­off Sh­ester, a fish­ery sci­en­tist with Oceana, a marine con­ser­va­tion group. “Fish­er­men with lost in­come will suf­fer fi­nan­cially, and marine an­i­mals, like Cal­i­for­nia sea lion pups, will face an­other year of fight­ing star­va­tion.”

Al­ber t Carter of Ocean Gold Seafood in south­west Wash­ing­ton said sar­dines are a sig­nif­i­cant part of the com­pany busi­ness when pop­u­la­tions are strong.

Carter, who serves on a Pa­cific Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, said he has not had a chance to re­view the new sar­dine as­sess­ment.

But he said if pop­u­la­tions have con­tin­ued to de­cline, he does not ex­pect a 2016 sea­son. Sar­dine pop­u­la­tions his­tor­i­cally have had huge fluc­tu­a­tions that re­flect chang­ing ocean con­di­tions.

Sh­ester of Oceana said sar­dines also have been over­fished, which has pre­vented pop­u­la­tions from fully re­bound­ing dur­ing prime ocean con­di­tions and knocked them back much lower when the oceans were less fa­vor­able.


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