April 21, 2016
April 21, 2016
Researchers can’t tell exactly what’s driving the die-off…”Those ocean life patterns are just not working the way they have in the past,” said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
From the Oregonian
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March 10, 2016
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Nearly a year into a West Coast sardine fishing ban enacted to protect the collapsing population, the fish formerly worth more than $8 million to Oregon’s economy have shown no signs of a comeback.
New federal research indicates numbers of the small, silvery, schooling fish have plummeted further than before the fishing moratorium, dashing any hope of lifting it in 2016.
With the current sardine population hovering at 7 percent of its 2007 peak, fishermen now say they expect to wait a decade or more to revive the fishery.
“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.
Sardines aren’t struggling in isolation. Other fish near the bottom of the marine food web, such as anchovies and herring, are also down. The shortage of sustenance is rippling upward to create crises for predator species from seals to seabirds.
Researchers can’t tell exactly what’s driving the die-off, nor how long it will last. Some say the crash can be attributed to cyclical boom-and-bust population dynamics sardines have always exhibited.
Others argue overfishing played a role, driving sardine populations down too far and too fast to blame it on a natural population flux.
Then there’s the unavoidable presence of the “warm blob,” a lingering mass of overheated water that for more than two years has wreaked havoc on sea life off the Pacific coast.
“Those ocean life patterns are just not working the way they have in the past,” said Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that tracks sardine numbers. “There’s a feeling that a lot of this is environmentally-driven.”
RIPPLES IN THE FOOD CHAIN
The Pacific fishery council’s rules call for a fishery shutdown if the total weight of adult sardines falls below 150,000 metric tons. When the population fell below that threshold last spring, council members scrambled to enact a midseason shutdown.
Federal scientists last month estimated sardine biomass has dropped below 65,000 tons this year.
Even with fishing pressures lifted, sardines could struggle to bounce back in an ocean devoid of their main food source. The lipid-rich coldwater plankton that sardines like to eat have become scarcer in West Coast waters, replaced by tropical species with less appeal to the region’s predators. Scientists suspect the warm blob is causing the plankton shift.
Without that food source, “the whole system can suffer,” said Kerry Griffin, who manages sardines for the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The end result is ominous for more than just fishermen. Oily sardines are a key food source for larger ocean-going animals. As that option becomes scarce, predators switch to less-nutritious food options and can end up starving.
Scientists believe that chain reaction is already playing out in a big way. A group of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers last week released a study linking the sardine collapse to the surge in starving sea lion pups washing ashore along the California coast. The scientists who authored the study say they expect the mass starvation that stranded 3,000 pups last year to continue as long as forage fish numbers remain low.
Similar phenomena have been observed among other species that target small schooling fish for food. Brown pelicans are failing to breed, dead Guadalupe fur seals are washing ashore in California, undersize salmon are returning to Canadian spawning grounds and seabirds are washing ashore weakened or dead on the Oregon coast.
Environmentalists for years warned that a sardine collapse was imminent. Now they have begun lobbying to get more conservative harvest policies in place before the fishery reopens.
Research shows that overfishing intensifies the cyclical downturns of sardines and other small fish, and ocean conservation groups argue current West Coast standards are too permissive to prevent overfishing.
Ben Enticknap, a Portland-based campaign manager for the international conservation group Oceana, said the group is pushing the council to adopt new standards that would trigger a fishing ban once the sardine stock drops below 640,000 metric tons. That trigger point is more than four times higher than the current level.
The group is also lobbying for a rule to prohibit fishermen from hauling in more than 15 percent of the adult population in a given season. In the final years of harvest before last year’s shutdown, fishermen caught as much as 28 percent of the adult sardines in the water.
“Fundamental flaws in management have to be fixed, or this crash will be repeated in the future,” Enticknap said.
Although the overall results of this year’s sardine count were discouraging, scientists say there’s a glimmer of hope.
Several years of poor reproduction helped drive down the sardine population. In their latest trawl, scientists saw evidence that 2015 was a good spawning year.
It’s too soon to tell whether the reproductive success signals a turning point.
“There are some potentially positive signs there,” Milstein said, but in order to boost population counts, “the young need to survive long enough to make it into the mature population.”
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Monterey Herald, Nov 3, 2015 (emphasis added): Local whale watching tour companies and conservationists claim the anchovy population has “collapsed” due to environmental reasons… Fishing groups disagree, though they note the bay has seen some dramatic environmental changes.
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Oct 30, 2015: Monterey Bay anchovy numbers in decline, groups say… “Since late September, the whale numbers have decreased, their behavior has changed and their food, anchovies, are less abundant,” said Nancy Black, marine biologist… Whale watching tour companies and conservationists claim the anchovy population has “collapsed” due to environmental reasons… The fishing industry says that’s not the case though ocean conditions have been unusual. Some scientists, however, are finding a drastic decline in the forage fish… [Pacific Fishery Management Council staff officer Mike Burner said,] “The council’s definitely concerned with some of the things they’ve heard.”… “The population has truly collapsed,” [said] William Sydeman, president and senior scientist at the Farallon Institute. “There’s no way fishing could have that kind of impact, so it had to be environmental.”… plankton populations are low, affecting their predators up the marine food chain… “When anchovy numbers are low, they crowd at the coast and appear to be abundant,” Sydeman said… At the same time, the lack of anchovies offshore are maybe in part why scores of sea lions and sea birds… are starving up and down the coast. “Right now we’re seeing that the whales are more scattered and seem to be looking harder for food,” said Dorris Welch, marine biologist…
Monterey Herald, Oct 19, 2015: Plenty of anchovies in Monterey Bay, but maybe not elsewhere… Market squid are disappearing, and in their place, fishing boats are reeling in piles of anchovies. But while they appear abundant, conservation groups warn that the forage fish may be at their lowest levels since the 1950s. “It’s an anomalous year,” said Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association. [Oceana’s Geoff Shester said,] “new information shows that the stock is at such a low level right now, it’s literally in a state of collapse.” Survey cruises conducted by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center detected little to no anchovy eggs from 2010 to 2013… Sit on the docks where anchovies are sorted and you’ll likely see lots of the silvery fish piling up. But it’s a mirage, warns William Sydeman, ecologist of the Farallon Institute, who coauthored the paper that estimated anchovies at low levels. “People think that if they’re in Monterey Bay, they must be everywhere,” Sydeman said. “They’re not. They’re only in Monterey Bay.” Sydeman said anchovies tend to aggregate near shore when their numbers are low…
KION, Oct 21, 2015: California’s last anchovies crowd in the Monterey Bay; Researchers say a massive decline of the fish is throwing off the ecosystem — Several conservation groups and whale watching operators are very concerned about the anchovies in the Monterey Bay… Recently, fishermen have been hauling out 120 tons of anchovies every night, but those anchovies are some of the last along California’s coast… “The anchovy abundance out here, and off the entire state, has gotten to some of the lowest we’ve seen since the 1950s,” [Oceana’s Geoff Shester] said. “Scientists are calling it an actual collapse.”… Anchovies are an important part of the ecosystem. That’s why these groups say if nothing is done, there could be long-term impacts. “We’re really worried that right now we are seeing major die-offs of sea lion pups and pelicans because they’re starving and not able to reproduce,” Shester said. “And that’s because there’s not enough sardines and anchovies out there.” “We’ve noticed the numbers of whales have dropped significantly,” [marine biologist Nancy Black] said.