Pacific Sardine Facts

There’s been a lot of attention on sardine management lately, as the Council considers what to do at its meeting in Rohnert Park, California, later this week. Here is some background information about the management of Pacific sardine.


The recent stock assessment of Pacific sardine biomass off the U.S. west coast produced two estimates of biomass, one of which is likely to be endorsed by Pacific Fishery Management Council’s  Scientific and Statistical Committee. Both estimates are below the ‘cutoff’ threshold of 150,000 metric tons; the Council’s harvest control rule for Pacific sardine management curtails directed commercial fishing when the biomass estimate falls below the cutoff. The sardine biomass is assessed annually, and the fishing year runs July 1 through June 30. At the upcoming April meeting, the Council will be recommending management for the fishing year starting July 1.

Sardine Management

The Council takes a precautionary approach to sardine management. When the species is abundant, moderately greater fishing is allowed. When the stock is in decline and/or when environmental conditions are unfavorable, the fishery management plan has built-in brakes, so that both the total amount allowed for harvest and the actual percent of the stock allowed for harvest both fall.  When the biomass estimate falls to the level of 150,000 metric tons, commercial sardine fishing is essentially shut down.

Sardines and the Environment

Sardine productivity is generally linked to ocean temperatures, but it’s not a perfect relationship.  For example, temperatures in the Southern California Bight have ticked up the past two years but we haven’t seen an uptick in young sardines that was expected.

Incidental Harvest

There are usually small amounts of sardines caught incidentally in other fisheries, such as Pacific mackerel, and the Council will have to determine the amount of incidental harvest to allow.

Economic Importance and Past Harvest Levels

The allowable harvest in recent years has been as high as 109,000 metric tons (2012) but has dropped as the biomass has dropped.  In 2013 the harvest guideline was 66,495 mt, in 2014 it was 23,293mt.

Although sardine fishing doesn’t generate the money that some other fisheries do, it is an important source of income for communities up and down the west coast.

Our Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation report includes a section on economics of the CPS fishery for the west coast.  It is slightly out of date, but it’s all that we have at the moment.  Exvessel revenues were $21.5 million in 2012. Sardine exports were valued at $44 million in 2010 and $34.8 million in 2011.

Council Role

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 for the purpose of managing fisheries 3-200 miles offshore of the United States of America coastline. The Pacific Council recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.