Opinion: Sardine and squid fishing no threat to species

Monterey Bay region’s healthiest fisheries are under attack by extremists.

Touting studies with faulty calculations, activists have been trying to convince federal regulators to massively curtail sardine limits, if not ban fishing outright.

There’s just one problem. The science doesn’t support their conclusions.

That’s because California already has a precautionary management system in place that provides comprehensive overfishing protection for sardines and other coastal pelagic “Wetfish,” including market squid.

But the facts don’t seem to matter to groups with a protectionist agenda. Their rhetoric leaves those not familiar with the fishing industry with the impression that overfishing is a huge problem in California.

Fact: It isn’t.

Oceana – and other similar organizations – want unnecessary cutbacks in sardine fishing, as well as substantial limits on other “forage fish,” including herring, anchovies and squid – which are also already managed sustainably.

Let’s look at the facts: Today’s fishery management of coastal pelagic species in this state and along the west coast portion of the California Current Ecosystem is recognized as the most protective in the world, one of only a few areas that’s deemed ‘sustainable’ by internationally recognized scientists (Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 2009).

This is not a newly implemented strategy. The state and federal government established guidelines more than a decade ago for coastal pelagic species harvested in California and on the West Coast, maintaining at least 75 percent of the fish in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass for other marine species.

The sardine protection rate is even higher at close to 90 percent. In addition, California implemented a network of marine reserves in state waters through the Marine Life Protection Act. Many reserves were established explicitly to protect forage species for other marine life. For example, more than 30 percent of traditional squid harvest grounds are now closed in reserve, including important bird rookery and haul-out areas around Año Nuevo and the Farallon Islands.

Does that sound like overfishing to you?

Environmental groups say they want to establish an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management that takes into account species’ dependence on one another and would ultimately result in lower fishing limits. These groups were the prime movers behind California Assembly Bill 1299, a bill that failed to pass the Legislature, for good reason.

California already has the most precautionary fishery management system in the world. That bill would restrict our state’s fishermen unnecessarily and unfairly, because virtually all the forage species listed in the bill are actively managed or monitored by the federal government as well as the state, and most species are harvested along the entire West Coast, not just in California.

As for sardine management, environmentalists complained that the harvest control rule (HCR) used to set fishing quotas was outdated. But recent scientific analyses showed that the HCR actually underestimated sardine productivity, thus recent year harvest limits were even more precautionary than necessary.

The Scientific and Statistical Committee advising the Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended a workshop in 2012 to review harvest control rule parameters, including sardine reproductivity. Annual fertility in sardines is known to be heavily age/size dependent. Future analyses, including both stock assessments and harvest management analyses, should include this important life history trait. The fishing industry supports this work.

A new and more complete assessment of the sardine control rule will be developed. Further, it’s time to enact international management cooperation for the sardine resource, not just restrictions on the state level.

And in fact, an international effort to mount a summer survey extending into both Mexico and Canada is planned for 2012. If Oceana and its allies are really interested in protecting sardines, they should fully support this scientific effort.

We certainly do.

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