New Anchovy Protections Seen as Boost for Ocean Health

Northern anchovy
Northern anchovy. Photo: Beth Hoffman/CC BY-NC-SA.

A new management framework for the anchovy population adopted in November by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) goes into effect in January, requiring a regular review of anchovy numbers and adjusting catch levels as needed based on annual abundance surveys and other information.

The independent non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts hailed that change as a more responsive, holistic management approach, which will benefit more than 50 species of marine wildlife, from albacore tuna and Chinook salmon to least terns and humpback whales.

The PEW report notes that fishery managers had for years used fixed-catch limits, no matter how much the anchovy population or ocean health declined. In addition, for more than two decades, management of California’s anchovy population was based on information collected between 1964 and 1990.

That approach, coupled with static, multiyear catch limits, simply doesn’t work for a species that undergoes large natural fluctuations in abundance, the report said. When the populations collapses, as happened between 2009 and 2016, failing to lower the catch limit can put anchovies, as well as coastal communities and marine wildlife depending on the anchovies, at risk. As a result, West Coast anchovy have been left vulnerable to overfishing during periods of low abundance, the report said.

Under the new management, based on annual population data and regular stock assessments, it is less likely that the West Coast anchovy fleet will overfish the species when abundance is low, and also help to ensure that seabirds, whale and other marine wildlife have sufficient prey, the report said. While the PFMC will has work to do to fully integrate this new approach to anchovy management, the framework adopted in November is a big leap forward and bodes well for the future of the Pacific Ocean food web, the report concludes.