Quinault tribe in Washington state will still go ahead with a small sardine fishery.
Fisheries managers have decided to call off the West Coast sardine fishing season that starts in July because of rapidly dwindling numbers, hoping to save an iconic industry from the kind of collapse that hit in the 1940s and lasted 50 years.
Meeting near Santa Rosa, Calif., the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Sunday to close the season starting July 1.
The council also is considering whether overfishing has been a factor in the latest collapse, which could trigger an emergency shutdown of the current season, which runs through June.
The once-thriving sardine industry crashed in the 1940s. It revived in the 1990s when fisheries developed in Oregon and Washington waters, but population estimates have been declining since 2006, and catch values since 2012.
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In recent years, sardines have been worth from $10 million to more than $20 million annually to a West Coast fleet.
Washington fish processors have been a significant player in the sardine industry. In 2013, 26,847 metric tons were landed in Washington out of a total harvest of 61,646 metric tons of sardines, according to a federal fishery council document.
Sardines have large natural fluctuations in populations, with stocks typically rebuilding during periods of warm ocean temperatures. But some research has indicated that population declines can be worsened by fishing pressures.
Scientists estimated there were 1 million metric tons of sardines off the West Coast in 2006, but the current sardine biomass is estimated to have fallen to 97,000 metric tons, according to a statement released Monday by the federal fishery council.
“We know boats will be tied up, but the goal here is to return this to a productive fishery,” said David Crabbe, a fishery-council member.
Environmentalists have been concerned that the stocks may have been overfished in recent years and have pressed for conservation measures to protect a fish that is an important food source for a broad range of marine life.
“We have been seeing the impacts of a collapsing sardine population on sea lions and sea birds for years now,” said Ben Enticknap, of the conservation group Oceana, in a statement released Monday.
The council allowed some sardines to be caught inadvertently in the course of related fisheries but reduced the amount. That means boats targeting anchovies, mackerel and herring won’t have to stop fishing but could run up against limits in sardines caught that would shut them down, as well.
The council also allowed the Quinault Tribe in Washington to go ahead with a small sardine fishery.