April 10, 2017 — On April 9-10, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sacramento to deliberate on anchovy management and decide on 2017 harvest limits for sardine, two prominent west coast forage fish.
Extreme environmental groups like Oceana and Pew have plastered social media with allegations that the anchovy population has crashed, sardines are being overfished and fisheries should be curtailed, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Beyond multiple lines of recent evidence that both sardines and anchovy populations are increasing in the ocean, a new study published this week in the journal Fisheries Research finds that the abundance of these and other forage fish species is driven primarily by environmental cycles with little impact from fishing, and well-managed fisheries have a negligible impact on predators — such as larger fish, sea lions and seabirds.
This finding flies directly in the face of previous assumptions prominent in a 2012 study commissioned by the Lenfest Ocean Program, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, heirs of Sun Oil Company. The Lenfest study concluded that forage fish are twice as valuable when left in the water to be eaten by predators and recommended slashing forage fishery catch rates by 50 to 80 percent.
However, in the new study, a team of seven internationally respected fisheries scientists, led by Prof. Ray Hilborn, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, discovered no correlation between predator populations and forage fish abundance. The new research also found multiple omissions in the methodology of the Lenfest study. For instance, it — and other previous studies — used ecosystem models that ignored the natural variability of forage fish, which often fluctuate greatly in abundance from year-to-year.