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.