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article imagePacific Northwest sardine fishing banned as populations drop

By Karen Graham     Apr 12, 2016 in Environment
Seattle - For the second year in a row, regulators with the U.S. Pacific Fishery Management Council have shut down fishing for sardines off California, Oregon and Washington to allow the species to hopefully recover.
The Pacific Northwest sardine industry may be faced with a fishing ban that could last for a number of years to come as federal estimates on the sardine's adjusted biomass was put at 65,000 metric tons, well below the cutoff amount of 150,000 mt.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council writes that Pacific sardines (Sardinops sagax) were once the most abundant fish species in the California current which runs from Oregon to Baja California. There are three, and possible four sub-populations of sardines of which the northern sub-population is most important to U.S. commercial fisheries.
The sardine industry thrived off the Pacific Coast from World War I through World War II, according to the Seattle Times, but their numbers and the industry crashed during the 1940s. By the 1990s, the industry had revived with the addition of fisheries in Washington and Oregon.
Today, there are only 100 boats permitted to fish for sardines on the West Coast, half the number of boats that plied the waters during the industry's heyday. Up until the ban on fishing for sardines that went into effect in 2015, most of the sardines landed were from Mexico on up to British Columbia waters, and exported to Asia and Europe. The value of the sardine catches on the West Coast rose from $1.4 million in 1991 to a peak of $21 million in 2012, however, the populations have been declining again.
The sardine fishing season starts on July 1, and in 2015, the ban on sardine catches went into effect half way through the season. Now it is getting near that time again, and it appears that a decision has already been made. "I don't want to take a pessimistic view, but I would think we'll be shut down until 2030," said Ryan Kapp, a Bellingham fisherman who advises the Pacific Fishery Management Council on sardines and other fish told the Oregonian.
In other bad news from the Council, there is the possibility of the full closure of Coho and Chinook fisheries off the Washington state coast for the first time since 1994.
There are several culprits behind the decline in sardine populations, reports EcoWatch. There is climate change and the movement of the fish further North, the natural ebb and flow of populations, and overfishing. Another suspect is the "warm blob" centered in the Pacific Ocean with waters 4.0 degrees warmer than the surrounding waters.
The declining numbers of sardines is also being blamed for the high numbers of sea lion pup deaths from starvation. While there has been considerable improvement in the matter of overfishing, there are still climate-driven changes in the ocean's ecosystems that needs to be addressed. The time has come where a broader number of variables needs to be studied before making any major changes, and this will have to involve more than just the fishing industry.
More about Pacific northwest, sardine fishing, species collapse, ban on fishing, Industry
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