West Coast
Pacific sardines populations off the West Coast have plummeted since 2006, leading to closures of the commercial fishery for the fifth straight year. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Officials: No Sardine Fishing Off California This Year Due to Steep Population Decline

West coast regulators have voted unanimously to ban commercial sardine fishing for the fifth straight year after a recent evaluation of the northern Pacific stock revealed a steep decline.

The ban on commercial sardine catch spans the entire length of the U.S. West Coast. The 2019 season would have opened July 1.

A new assessment of northern Pacific sardine stocks by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates populations of the small silvery fish have declined more than 98 percent since 2006.

'When sardines collapse, the collapse just pulls the rug out from the entire ecosystem.'Geoff Shester, Oceana

Kerry Griffin of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which voted unanimously on Friday in favor of the closure, said sardines and similar species like anchovy and herring can experience large population booms and busts.

“So when the sardine population is on the decline,” Griffin said, “you want to protect the core spawning population to protect the stock.”

The latest surveys estimate the abundance of northern Pacific sardines at roughly 28,000 metric tons, well-below the 150,000 metric ton threshold required for commercial fishermen to start dropping nets. In 2006, there were nearly 1.8 million metric tons of sardine swimming off the Pacific U.S., according to NOAA’s estimates.

Griffin said the current decline is “largely environmentally driven.” Changing ocean temperatures, weather extremes like El Niño and predator-prey relationships, she said, have an impact on sardine populations.

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)Marine scientists say the decline in West Coast sardine populations is driven by environmental factors like changing ocean temperatures.

“Typically when the conditions are right, these stocks will rebound," Griffin said. "That’s what we’re waiting for.”

Geoff Shester, a marine biologist with the environmental group Oceana, said sardines play a major role in the ocean off California because so much marine life — Brown Pelicans, dolphins, salmon and shark — rely on them for food.

“These are the engines, or the heartbeat of the ocean, that is really supplying our entire ecosystem with the fuel it needs to be productive,” Shester said. “So when sardines collapse, the collapse just pulls the rug out from the entire ecosystem.”

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