On April 10, the Pacific Fishery Management Council closed the West Coast sardine fishery for a second straight year. The council followed its ultra-conservative harvest control policy and relied on a stock assessment that does not account for recent sardine recruitment.
But in fact, there are multiple lines of evidence that young sardines are now abundant in the ocean.
In addition to field surveys, fishermen in both California and the Pacific Northwest have been observing sardines — both small and large — since the summer of 2015. And California fishermen also provided samples of the small fish to federal and state fishery managers. During the council meeting, the industry advisory subpanel — comprised of fishermen and processors — voiced concern with the inability of acoustic surveys — on which stock assessments are largely based — to estimate accurately the number of fish in the sea. These surveys routinely miss the mass of sardines in the nearshore, where the bulk of the fishery occurs in California, and in the upper water column in the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon and Washington fishermen catch sardines. The recruitment we’re seeing now seems much like the recruitment event following the 2003 El Niño. The years 1999-2002 were characterized by strong La Niña conditions, similar to the years 2010-2013. And what happened after the early 2000s? By 2007 the West Coast sardine population hit its highest peak in recent memory.
So by all appearances the sardine population is likely on the upswing — not still tanking as many environmentalists and media reports are claiming.