Last week Dr. Geoff Shester, California campaign director for the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana criticized the Pacific Fishery Management Council for the persistence of low numbers of California Sardines. The lack of a population recovery may cause the commercial moratorium to last until 2017.
The author explained this sardine population decline as being 93 percent less than it was in 2007. Dr. Shester does not believe this is because of environmental causes like climate change, El Nino, or natural fluctuations in forage fish species however – instead he blames the management body. “They warned of a population collapse and the fishery management body basically turned a blind eye and continued moving forward with business as usual.”
Shester also cited recent sea lion deaths, specifically 3,000 that washed ashore in California in 2015.
“When fishing pressure occurs during a decline, which is exactly what happened here,” said Dr. Shester. “It puts the stock at such dramatically low levels it impedes any recovery potentially for decades.”
Comment by Ray Hilborn, University of Washington, @hilbornr
Dr. Shester’s comments are some of the most dishonest commentary I have seen in the fisheries world.
He knows that the NOAA Scientists and Prof Tim Essington, in work funded by the Pew Foundation, have stated clearly that the decline in sardine abundance is due to natural causes. He also knows that sea lions are not dependent upon sardines; the die off of sea lions is caused by the oceanographic conditions – not the result of fishing. In fact, reproductive failures of sea lions have occurred repeatedly in the past at times of high sardine abundance.
If he has read Dr. Essington’s paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences he would also know that there is no relationship between fishing and the duration of periods of low abundance of sardines and other forage fish.
The harvest rule for sardines is highly precautionary, even when sardines are at high abundance the harvest rate is low. Indeed the harvest control rule for sardines matches very well the recommended harvest rule for forage fish that emerged from the LENFEST report – that is a low target harvest rate at high abundance with the fishery closed when the stock reaches low abundance.
Members of the Science and Statistics Committee of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council have explained all this to Dr. Shester before – he simply continues to ignore science and pursue his own agenda.
Ray Hilborn is a Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. Find him on twitter here: @hilbornr