Federal regulators decided Wednesday to end the sardine season earlier this year in an effort to curb overfishing. The move affects only the West coast fishery by making it illegal to fish for sardines off California, Washington, and Oregon.
U.S. regulators explained that they intended to prevent a future ecological disaster on the West Coast from occurring such as the collapse of the Cannery Row fishery in Monterey, Calif. popularized by author John Steinbeck in his famous novel of the same name.
The move to halt sardine fishing season followed an emergency vote coming from the members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council of Santa Rosa, Calif. which soon urged NOAA’s Fisheries Service to declare the season closed. Usually, on the West Coast sardine season would end June 30.
About 100 fishing boats will be affected although they do have valid fishing permits and not all of them are currently actively fishing. Frank Lockhart, a spokesperson for NOAA’s Fisheries Service disclosed that the season would be virtually closed in a week or two after all fishermen would be properly notified.
This week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council also closed the next sardine season that was due to start July 1. The council said that it was an absolutely necessary measure to take as current estimates showed a sharp decline in sardine populations, as well of a slower recovery rate. If the current situation continued, the council explained, sardines could soon enter the overfished species category.
Nevertheless, the council was aware that the measure would hurt local fishermen and fishing industry, so it didn’t take the decision lightly. However, on the long-run it is a crucial move to rein further decline of sardine stocks that are much lower than those last year, when harvest quotas were established.
“We may be in an overfished state in a couple of years,”
said Michele Culver, a member of the council and a representative of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
On the other hand, conservationists were over thrilled with the council’s decision. Environmentalists have warned that a further decline in sardine population would lead to the extinction of the brown pelican and sea lion due to starvation. The two species already faced large-scale starvation deaths, conservationists said.
Ben Enticknap from Oceana, a conservationist group, had been asking the council to take these measures for years. He claims that sardines are already overfished and this situation began in 2009 when a decline in their reproduction was recorded due to pollution. Mr. Enticknap explained that about 90 percent of sea lion pups were starving and some of them even died because they could not find any sardines to eat.
Furthermore, Mr. Enticknap said that sardine populations sank 91 percent since 2007. After Wednesday’s vote, he added that conservationists would have liked to see emergency action being taken years ago. But the recent move is a good start towards rebuilding sardine population that is so vital to the health of the oceans, Mr. Enticknap added.
However, fishing industry is not content. Seafood processors claim that sardines are not overfished. Instead, the council’s measure would deprive local businesses of more than $1 million in legitimate earnings.
Image Source: Seafood International Digital