Thirty Thousand Feet, Episode 1: Kerry Griffin on coastal pelagic species management


Jennifer:  Hi everyone, and welcome to the first edition of Thirty Thousand Feet, the new Pacific Fishery Management Council podcast. I’m Jennifer Gilden, your host today, and today on our inaugural episode we are talking to Kerry Griffin, the staff officer for coastal pelagic species for the Council, about how CPS species are managed. Kerry, can you give me an overview?

Kerry: Yes, one of our four fishery management plans is the coastal pelagic species, CPS, fishery management plan. You should think of CPS as the forage fish, the bait fish sometimes they’re called —- the small fish like anchovies and sardines and mackerels and things like that. And some of those are under Federal management; some are not under Federal management, like herring, but a lot of them are: anchovies and mackerel and also market squid.

Jennifer: Do we set management measures for market squid?

Kerry: We do not set annual management measures because it’s primarily—or at least historically has been primarily—a California fishery. The Federal management defers to a California total allowable catch each year, and we monitor that.

Squid are a very odd species. Their life cycle is less than one year; it averages something like seven months. They’re a boom-and-bust type of species, like a lot of the CPS stocks are, so they are under Federal management and we have a standing allowable harvest that is based on California’s management. We just take that and apply it as the Federal limit as well.

Jennifer: Can you tell me a little about krill? I know we prohibited harvest of krill species a while back.

Kerry: Yeah, that’s right, that’s another really good topic. Krill species, which are these little shrimp-like euphausiids, they are called, are also managed under the Federal CPS FMP, and they were included for the specific purpose of prohibiting harvest, as you mentioned. Krill really does form the basis of the food web, so we want to make sure that fisheries don’t develop on krill species.

We also have ecosystem components (EC) species that are part of that CPS FMP.  There’s a couple that are specifically listed that are Pacific herring and also Jack smelt. EC species are typically not highly targeted. We kind of keep an eye on them, watch them, but we don’t set harvest specifications; they don’t have essential fish habitat designated for them.

We also have what we call “common EC species” across all FMPs, and that was part of the forage fish initiative a few years ago that stemmed from our fishery ecosystem plan efforts. The Council came up with a whole list of currently unmanaged and generally untargeted forage fish and put them all in this forage fish management plan that says “you can’t fish on these unless you really prove up that it can be done sustainably, safely.” A bunch of the species are included as EC species across all four of our FMPs. So it’s a way to protect forage fish and the ecosystem.

Jennifer: So what are some of the major challenges in the CPS world right now?

Kerry: CPS stocks are tricky to manage because they tend to have this boom-and-bust cycle, and anyone who pays attention to this kind of stuff knows that species like anchovy and sardines, their populations grow really high, you know, exponentially. They’ll become very common all up and down the coast, and then they will wane, and follow this boom-and-bust cycle. Some people theorize that they’re on about a 60-year cycle for Pacific sardine, it’s a little less clear with anchovies, but they’re pretty short-lived species, and when the environmental conditions are right, the populations will just explode. And when environmental conditions are poor, then they will not do so well.

Jennifer: So that sardines you’re talking about?

Kerry: Yeah that was sardines, but they pretty much all have these boom and bust cycles. They’re short-lived, really just a few years. A good kind of counterpoint is something like a rockfish that might live to be 50 or 80 or 100 years old, and they’re very predictable, and you know how many offspring they’re going to produce, and it’s easier in a way to plan for things like proper harvest levels or recovery plans or rebuilding plans. But with CPS species you just don’t know what you’re gonna get from year to year. so it’s a little tricky. You gotta manage conservatively, but also allow a reasonable amount of fishing when the fish are around. 

Jennifer: Right. And so what’s going on anchovies now?

Kerry: Yeah, anchovies—right now we appear to be in one of the boom cycles. Really just a few years ago, four or so years ago, the anchovy population had apparently declined quite a bit. There was a lot of attention to it and a lot of concern that we were still allowing fishing on anchovies, but we do allow a certain amount of fishing on these stocks, recognizing that they are prone to these wide swings in population, even aside or not resulting from fishing pressure. So what’s going on right now is there is an abundance of anchovies, something like 1.5 million metric tons is the estimated biomass. We’re not sure how long it’ll stay that way, because you just don’t know about these fish. Sardines have declined in population, conversely, over the last several years; really more like 10 or 15 years, they’ve been on the decline. There’s still a lot in the Southern California Bight, but overall that population is a little bit declined. 

Jennifer: So would someone who’s fishing for sardines switch over to anchovies when anchovies are doing well and vice versa?

Kerry: That’s a great question, and yes, what you’ll hear from the CPS fleets is that they really depend on an array of different species to target, because sometimes they’re there, and sometimes they’re not. So if there’s no sardine, they’ll be turning to other things like anchovies, mackerel and squid. Squid is highly desirable, so they would prefer to go after that, especially where they’re most prevalent down in California, but then they need to have these other opportunities available to them.

Jennifer: Right, that makes sense. So where do all those anchovies end up?

Kerry: A lot of them are packed and shipped overseas. I don’t think it’s a majority of the harvest, but they’re often block frozen. Markets really determine whether and how much the fleet is able to go out and fish for these stocks. Some of it is used for things like tuna net pens or longline fishing for maybe albacore tuna, that kind of thing. So they’re used as bait or to produce other higher-end products. Some do go to the canned market. I think a little bit goes to the fresh market.

Sardines, when they’re around, there is a niche market for them. They can get big enough to be sort of dinner-plate size, and so sometimes you’ll see them in white tablecloth restaurants when they’re around. Back in the day the anchovy fishing was really targeted or really aimed at the reduction fishery, where they took these fish and reduced them and made them into paste for fertilizer and things like that. But that is really prohibited. [Cat meows]. There’s no reduction fishing anymore for anchovies or sardines.

Jennifer: How long ago did they stop doing that?

Kerry: [cat meows again]. He wants an anchovy. [Laughs.] Using anchovies for reduction purposes stopped I think by the nineties. By the time we had the advent of Federal fisheries management for the CPS group, it was recognized that reduction fishing was not an optimal use for these stocks. They were catching huge amounts of fish and using it for purposes that weren’t viewed as the optimal use, not in the best interest of the nation’s fishery management. 

Jennifer: So tell me what happened at the April council meeting in terms of CPS. 

Kerry: Yeah, in April we have a standing agenda item to set Pacific sardine harvest specifications and management measures, and so that again was on the April agenda. We had a couple other things too, but that was the biggie. What was really interesting was because of the COVID crisis there were no Federal ship surveys that went out last year. We really depend on those coastwide surveys to get a handle on what the biomass is for Pacific sardine. So because we didn’t have any of that information, the stock assessment team did the best they could, but our Scientific and Statistical Committee ended up deferring or defaulting to last year’s stock assessment to set our management measures, just because there was so much uncertainty with this year. Because there was no data, so it was really guesswork. But we came through it, I think making a good decision, and we added some good buffers, and basically decreased the allowable harvest because of this sort of staleness of the biomass estimate. 

Jennifer: You think that stock assessment issue is gonna to be resolved in time for next year? 

Kerry: Well, the survey vessels are out now, and it’s looking pretty good that they’ve developed enough protocols and health protective measures so that they can get out and do their acoustic trawl surveys. There’s also some industry cooperative surveys that do help provide additional information, both from the biological side and also the biomass estimate side of things, so those are all up and operating right now. So I’m really hopeful that next year we’ll be able to get a good stock assessment with good fresh data. 

Jennifer: So what’s coming up in June for CPS? 

Kerry: We have a handful of CPS items on the agenda for June. Pacific mackerel also gets—well, it gets annual management measures, but we set them every two years, so this is one of the years, this June, where we will set them both for this upcoming season and for the following season after that. And then there’s some anchovy business on the June agenda. The CPS management team has worked up this flowchart to really help us determine when we do need to do a more full and robust anchovy stock assessment, because we don’t normally do those unless, you know, it’s not hardwired in. But there’s interest from the Council inn having a little more, you know, accountability maybe, or more opportunities to do assessments and reset management measures for anchovy. So we’ll be rolling that out at the June meeting. 

Jennifer: So are there any sort of big picture issues you’re looking at outside of Council management?

Kerry: The ocean is a big place, and there’s a lot of international agreements, especially for straddling stocks—things like salmon and the highly migratory fish, the tunas and the swordfish. And even in the CPS world, there are CPS stocks that range beyond our borders down into Mexico and Canada sometimes. So we’re always keeping an eye on whether stocks should be subject to some sort of international agreement, and then also there’s often criticism or concern about the management of fisheries outside the United States system, right? We have a pretty aggressive fishery management system here that is pretty protective of the environment, as well as coastal communities. There’s a lot less we can do with foreign nations and how they manage their fisheries. So we do what we can to protect the stocks, and we encourage international cooperation as much as possible for the conservation of all these species.

Jennifer: Okay, thanks. How about that CPS essential fish habitat review?

Kerry: Right, yes. Periodically we’re supposed to review and revise as necessary the essential fish habitat (EFH) designations for our managed stocks. As part of the Magnuson Act reauthorization, I think it was 1996, it said that “Hey, for all your managed stocks, you need to describe what is the essential fish habitat,” and it applies some protective measures where if there’s an activity that may adversely affect a species’ habitat, then you need to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service or with the Councils and come up with some measures to mitigate or minimize the impacts. And so we’ve done that with CPS, but they haven’t been reviewed in several years, and so we kicked off this period review and we’re looking at both the spatial extent of where EFH is for CPS stocks. And then we’re also looking at activities that may potentially harm habitat, whether those are fishing activities or non-fishing activities like offshore energy development or harbor dredging. So we’re kind of in the middle of that review right now. We just finished Phase 1, and now we will move on to Phase 2 to look at potential actual changes to the EFH descriptions and maps and things like that. 

Jennifer: OK, thanks Kerry. Really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about this. And thanks everyone for listening. If you need more information please go to our website, You can email us And check out our other podcast this month talking to Robin Elke about salmon. This has been a production of Thirty Thousand Feet by the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Episode One, May 2021.