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Background: Coastal Pelagic Species

The fish

The Pacific Council’s Coastal Pelagic Species fishery management plan describes the management of northern anchovy, market squid, Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, and jack mackerel. Pacific sardine and Pacific mackerel are actively managed and their population size is regularly assessed. Anchovy, market squid and jack mackerel are either managed by the states or are landed in low numbers. They are monitored in case they need to be more actively managed in the future.

Sardines

Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax) are small schooling fish. At times, they have been the most abundant fish species off the West Coast. When their population is large, it ranges from the tip of Baja California to southeastern Alaska.

In the north, sardines tend to appear seasonally. Sardines also form three (and possibly four) sub-populations. The northern subpopulation is most important to U.S. commercial fisheries.

Sardines may live as long as 13 years, but they are usually younger than five years old. Like anchovies, they are taken by a wide variety of predators.

More information on current Pacific sardine abundance and population trends is available in the current CPS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) Report. The report is available online or from the Council office.

Krill

In 2006, the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan was amended to include all krill species and to prohibit their harvest in order to protect krill’s vital role in the marine ecosystem. [Learn more.]

Mackerel

Pacific (chub) mackerel (Scomber japonicus) range from Mexico to southeastern Alaska. They are most abundant south of Point Conception, California. The “northeastern Pacific” stock of Pacific mackerel is harvested in the U.S. and Mexico. Like sardines and anchovies, mackerel are schooling fish. They are also heavily preyed upon by a variety of fish, mammals, and sea birds.

Jack mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) are a schooling fish that range widely throughout the northeastern Pacific. They grow to about 60 cm and can live 35 years or longer. Much of their range lies outside the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Small jack mackerel (up to six years of age) are most abundant in the Southern California Bight. Older, larger fish range from Baja California to the Gulf of Alaska. In southern California waters, jack mackerel schools are often found over rocky banks, artificial reefs, and shallow rocky coastal areas. They remain near the bottom or under kelp canopies during daylight and venture into deeper surrounding areas at night. Young juvenile fish sometimes form small schools beneath floating kelp and debris in the open sea.

Small jack mackerel taken off southern California and northern Baja California eat large zooplankton, juvenile squid, and anchovy.

Large predators like tuna and billfish eat jack mackerel, but adult jack mackerel are probably a minor forage source for smaller predators. Older jack mackerel probably do not contribute significantly to food supplies of marine birds because they are too large to be eaten by most bird species, and they school too deep for birds to reach them. They do not appear to be an important food source for marine mammals.

Anchovy

Northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax) are small, short-lived fish that are typically found in schools near the surface. They are found from British Columbia to Baja California. Northern anchovies are divided into northern, central, and southern sub-populations. The central subpopulation used to be the focus of large commercial fisheries in the U.S. and Mexico. Northern anchovy are an important part of the food chain for other species, including other fish, birds, and marine mammals.

Squid

Market squid (Loligo opalescens) appear from the southern tip of Baja California to southeastern Alaska. They are most abundant between Punta Eugenio, Baja California and Monterey Bay, California. They are harvested near the surface, but they can appear to depths of 800 meters or more. Squid are short-lived (up to ten months). They are important as forage foods to many fish, birds, and mammals.

Market squid are fished at night with the use of powerful lights, which attract the squid to the surface. They are either pumped directly from the sea into the hold of the boat, or caught with an encircling net.

The fishery and gear

Coastal pelagic species are harvested directly and as bycatch in other fisheries. Generally, they are targeted with “round-haul” gear including purse seines, drum seines, lampara nets, and dip nets. These species are also taken incidentally with midwater trawls, pelagic trawls, gillnets, trammel nets, trolls, pots, hook-and-line, and jigs.

Coastal pelagic species are found in the EEZs of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., as well as in international waters outside the U.S. EEZ. Within the U.S. EEZ, sardines are caught by U.S. commercial fisheries, by party and charter boats, and by anglers. Beyond the U.S. EEZ, sardines are caught in Mexican and Canadian fisheries.

Most processors and buyers of CPS on the West Coast are located in California, mainly in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara- Ventura, and Monterey. Some are also located in the Columbia River port areas of Oregon and Washington. Most of the market squid and Pacific sardines caught in the U.S. are exported. Market squid are mainly exported to China, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Spain. Sardines are mainly exported to Japan, where they are used for human consumption and as bait for longline fisheries; and Australia, where they are used to feed farmed bluefin tuna. A very small amount of sardines landed in Oregon and Washington are sold to Portland-area restaurants. Mackerel are exported to Japan, the Philippines, and Malta for human consumption.