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Researchers, Managers, and Industry Saw This Coming: Boom-Bust Cycle Is Not a New Scenario for Pacific Sardines

A Message from Eileen Sobeck, Head of NOAA Fisheries
April 23, 2015

Pacific sardines have a long and storied history in the United States. These pint-size powerhouses of the ocean have been -- on and off -- one of our most abundant fisheries. They support the larger ecosystem as a food source for other marine creatures, and they support a valuable commercial fishery. When conditions are good, this small, highly productive species multiplies quickly. It can also decline sharply at other times, even in the absence of fishing. So it is known for wide swings in its population.

Recently, NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council received scientific information as a part of the ongoing study and annual assessment of this species. This information showed the sardine population had continued to decline. It was not a surprise. Scientists, the Council, NOAA, and the industry were all aware of the downward trend over the past several years and have been following it carefully. Last week, the Council urged us to close the directed fishery on sardines for the 2015 fishing season.  NOAA Fisheries is also closing the fishery now for the remainder of the current fishing season to ensure the quota is not exceeded. 

While these closures affect the fishing community, they also provide an example of our effective, dynamic fishery management process in action. Sardine fisheries management is designed around the natural variability of the species and its role in the ecosystem as forage for other species. It is driven by science and data, and catch levels are set far below levels needed to prevent overfishing.  In addition, a precautionary measure is built into sardine management to stop directed fishing when the population falls below 150,000 metric tons. The 2015 stock assessment resulted in a population estimate of 97,000 metric tons, below the fishing cutoff, thereby triggering the Council action.

The sardine population is presently not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. However, the continued lack of recruitment of young fish into the stock in the past few years would have decreased the population, even without fishing pressure. So, these closures were a “controlled landing”. We saw where this stock was heading several years ago and everyone was monitoring the situation closely.

This decline is a part of the natural cycle in the marine environment. And if there is a new piece to this puzzle -- such as climate change -- we will continue to work closely with our partners in the scientific and management communities, the industry, and fishermen to address it.

To learn more about this amazing fish, go to these websites:

FishWatch

NOAA Southwest Fishery Science Center

NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

Pacific Fishery Management Council

 


Eileen Sobeck
Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries