Pacific Council News Fall 2020: Coastal Pelagic Species

Pacific sardine rebuilding plan approved

In September the Council approved a rebuilding plan for Pacific sardine, which was declared overfished in June 2019.  The Council selected the status quo (Alternative 1) as the preferred management alternative to achieve stock rebuilding, which takes into account the needs of the fishery, the biology of the stock, and the interaction of sardines within the marine ecosystem. 

Alternative 1 uses existing sardine harvest control rule and management measures, under which the annual catch limit (ACL) may not exceed the acceptable biological catch. The Council typically sets an annual catch target below the ACL to ensure that landings do not exceed the ACL.  

The minimum time for rebuilding if no fishing was allowed (Tmin) was estimated to be 12 years, and the maximum allowable time for rebuilding (Tmax) is 24 years.  The  target time for rebuilding  under the adopted rebuilding plan (Ttarget) is 14 years. 

The rebuilding target is an age 1+ biomass (sardines over age one) of 150,000 mt, which is consistent with the harvest control rule  cutoff value of 150,000 mt.  If the biomass estimate falls below the cutoff value, the directed commercial fishery is closed, leaving only live bait, minor directed, and incidental fisheries as allowable harvest sectors.

The directed commercial fishery has been closed since 2015, leaving the live bait and minor directed fisheries still operating, plus incidental catch allowances in other coastal pelagic and non-coastal pelagic species fisheries. Landings have averaged about 2,200 mt the past five years, with less than 500 mt annually composed of the northern subpopulation (the portion of the stock that falls under the rebuilding plan). Landings of this portion have averaged less than one percent of the northern subpopulation biomass since the closure of the directed fishery.

Although the populations of small pelagic species can be impacted by harvest, they are largely driven by environmental conditions. Thus, there is a great amount of uncertainty in future stock status, with or without the relatively minor amount of harvest the northern subpopulation is currently experiencing.

Under this rebuilding plan, the Council will continue setting annual harvest specifications and management measures each April, based on the annual stock assessments. The Council will track the progress of the rebuilding plan and  NMFS will review the process at least every two years.

Council staff will develop fishery management plan amendment language to reflect this decision and will transmit the changes to NMFS.  Final Secretarial approval of the rebuilding plan is expected to be completed by July 2021.

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