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California sardine (Sardinops sagax)

Pacific Fishery Management Council

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The "harvest guideline" for setting the annual U.S. catch limit is derived from a formula based in part on prevailing ocean temperatures and a minimum stock size threshold or cutoff point arbitrarily set at 150,000 mt, below which all fishing must cease. While this formula results in a recommended catch level that is considered conservative compared to standards for many forage fish fisheries in other parts of the world, the level is not based on any analysis of the needs of predators which rely on sardines.

In terms of spatial and seasonal management, the fishery has been heavily concentrated off southern California with little consideration of the effects on the sardine population in that region and only a rudimentary understanding of stock structure across the extent of the species range. In 2005, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a framework to allocate the sardine "harvest guideline" (recommended catch quota) coastwide in three seasonal installments beginning January 1 (35%), July 1 (40%), September 15 (25%).

Recent developments in the scientific assessment of sardine populations off the California coast show that numbers are much lower than previously thought, and have been in decline since 2000. As a result, the Pacific Fishery Management Council followed scientific recommendations to protect the stock by lowering 2008 harvest levels. Harvest limits for 2008 are 42% lower than the 2007 limits and the total 2007 catch. Some sardine processors and fishermen are resisting this change to the harvest guidelines.

The National Coalition for Marine Conservation has highlighted several concerns with the sardine management scheme:

  1. The 150,000 ton "cutoff" (i.e., a minimum stock size threshold below which fishing must stop) is too low and does not account for predators' needs. An explicit set-aside for predators needs to be factored into the minimum stock size threshold.
  2. More research into predator consumption of sardines is needed so that the council can begin to quantify an amount of sardines to allocate to predators
  3. Allocation of catch within areas is needed to ensure that shorebirds and other predators whose foraging areas are geographically limited are not out-competed by the fisheries


Copyright � Marine Fish Conservation Network. All Rights Reserved 2007

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