US likely to shut down sar­dine fish­ing on West Coast due to decline


Fish­eries man­agers on the U.S. West Coast will likely shut down sar­dine fish­ing this year as num­bers decline, echo­ing a pre­vi­ous col­lapse that dec­i­mated a thriv­ing in­dus­try and in­creas­ing wor­ries that other species might be with­held from the com­mer­cial mar­ket.

Fish­er­men are re­signed to not be­ing able to get sar­dines, but they hope the Pa­cific Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil will not be so con­cerned that it sets the level for in­ci­den­tal catch of sar­dines at zero, shut­ting down other fish­eries, such as mack­erel, an­chovies and mar­ket squid, which of­ten swim with sar­dines.

Sar­dines were a thriv­ing fish­ery on the West Coast from World War I through World War II, and the can­nery-lined wa­ter­front in Mon­terey, Cal­i­for­nia, be­came the back­drop for John Stein­beck’s 1945 novel, “Can­nery Row.” The fish­ery in­dus­try crashed in the 1940s, and rid­ing the book’s pop­u­lar­ity, Can­nery Row be­came a tourist des­ti­na­tion, with restau­rants and ho­tels re­plac­ing the can­ner­ies.

The in­dus­try re­vived in the 1990s, when fish­eries de­vel­oped fur­ther north along Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton wa­ters. To­day, about 100 boats have per­mits to fish for sar­dines on the West Coast, about half the num­ber dur­ing the hey­day. Much of the catch, landed from Mex­ico to Bri­tish Columbia, is ex­ported to Asia and Europe, where some is canned, and the rest goes for bait. West Coast land­ings have risen from a value of US$1.4 mil­lion in 1991 to a peak of US$21 mil­lion in 2012, but are again de­clin­ing.

The lat­est es­ti­mates of how many Pa­cific sar­dines are school­ing off Ore­gon, Cal­i­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton have fallen be­low the manda­tory cut­off line. The coun­cil cut har­vests by two-thirds last year, and meets April 12 in Cal­i­for­nia to set the lat­est sar­dine har­vest.

The lat­est stock as­sess­ments vary be­tween 133,000 met­ric tons, and 97,000 met­ric tons, both be­low the 150,000 met­ric tons cut­off, and less than 10 per­cent of the 2006 peak of 1.4 mil­lion met­ric tons.

The con­ser­va­tion group Oceana is urg­ing the coun­cil to im­me­di­ately shut down sar­dine fish­ing, and not wait un­til the new sea­son starts July 1. The group wants in­ci­den­tal catch lim­its set at zero, leav­ing as much food as pos­si­ble in the ocean for sea li­ons and other wildlife, and speed­ing the re­build­ing process for sar­dines.

Ben Entick­nap of Oceana ac­knowl­edged that sar­dines nat­u­rally go through large pop­u­la­tion swings, but he ar­gued that fish­ing since 2007 has ex­ceeded their re­pro­duc­tion rate, ex­ac­er­bat­ing the num­bers col­lapse.

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