Pacific Council News Spring 2019: Coastal pelagic species

Pacific sardine assessment shows stock below overfished threshold

The Pacific sardine stock assessment approved in April estimated a biomass of 27,547 metric tons, which is below the minimum stock size threshold of 50,000 mt, which corresponds with the overfished threshold. As a result, NMFS is expected to declare the stock overfished in the near future. Once that occurs, the Council and NMFS are required to put a rebuilding plan in place within two years.

For the past four fishing years, the biomass estimates in the stock assessments have been below the sardine harvest control rule cutoff threshold of 150,000 mt. Aside from small-scale directed fishing and live bait fishing, directed fishing has been prohibited.

The Council adopted harvest specifications and management measures for the 2019-20 Pacific sardine fishing season, which runs July 1 through June 30 (see table).

Biomass27,547 mt
Overfishing limit5,816 mt
Acceptable biological catch4,514 mt
Annual catch limit4,514 mt
Annual catch target4,000 mt

Harvest specifications:

A 20 percent incidental catch allowance applies to the primary directed commercial fishery. This means that no coastal pelagic species (CPS) fisheries may have landings with more than 20 percent of sardine by weight. CPS species often school together and it’s not unusual to encounter mixed schools.

Directed take of sardines in the live bait fishery will be allowed, within limits described below. However, if Amendment 17 to the CPS fishery management plan is not approved before the July 1, 2019 start date, the live bait fishery will be limited to 15 percent incidental take of sardines until Amendment 17 is approved.

If the live bait fishery attains 2,500 mt, a limit of 1 mt of sardines per trip in the live bait fishery will apply. If the annual catch target of 4,000 mt is attained, a limit of 1 mt per trip of incidentally caught sardines would apply to both the live bait and primary directed CPS fisheries. In addition, an incidental per-trip allowance of 2 mt of sardines applies to non-CPS fisheries.

Council discusses management of central population of northern anchovy

In April the Council addressed management, harvest specifications and reference points for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy (CSNA). The coastal pelagic species advisory bodies, along with the Scientific and Statistical Committee and NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center, will meet in the fall to discuss nearshore estimation methods,  frequency of assessments, and accountability measures related to CSNA management. Those groups are to report back in November.

In addition, a recent court order required NMFS to issue a new final rule on CSNA reference points (overfishing limit, acceptable biological catch, and annual catch limit) by May 28, 2019. Although the Council and its advisory bodies had limited time to review the proposed rule, they generally expressed support the new reference points. The Council submitted a comment letter to NMFS describing its efforts  to explore improved management approaches to CSNA and other coastal pelagic stocks.

In June, the Council will consider alternatives to current coastal pelagic species management categories, available data, and options for a stock assessment prioritization process. In November, the Council will revisit these CSNA management issues.

Two exempted fishing permits endorsed

In April the Council endorsed two coastal pelagic species exempted fishing permit proposals, and recommended that NMFS approve them. One is for aerial survey work in Southern California, submitted by the California Wetfish Producers Association. The other is a “proof of concept” for research in the Pacific Northwest, submitted by the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group. Both are designed to advance the science of coastal pelagic species stock surveys in the nearshore zone. Exempted fishing permits are issued by NMFS to allow exemptions from some regulations in order to study the effectiveness, bycatch rate, or other aspects of an experimental fishing gear.

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