A lawsuit filed on behalf of the environmental entity Oceana against National Marine Fisheries Service contends that a current Pacific sardine rebuilding plan is not working, nor does it take into account the importance of a healthy sardine population to other species.
The lawsuit, filed by non-profit public interest organization Earthjustice on behalf of Oceana, notes that Pacific sardine numbers have dropped by over 98% since 2006, and according to a 2020 federal assessment the current population is only 28,276 metric tons. Historically when that population was healthy, its abundance measured in millions of metric tons, the lawsuit contends.
Ruth Howell, speaking for NMFS in California, said the agency had no comment at this time.
Sardines are an essential food for humpback whales, dolphins, sea lions, brown pelicans, marbled murrelets and other critters.
Geoff Shester, senior scientist and California campaign director for Oceana, claims that fishery managers have plainly ignored best available science indicating an impending collapse and allowed catch levels that have cause yet another collapse of Cannery Row era proportions of the 1950s.
Pacific sardines were officially declared “overfished” in 2019, which legally requires development of a rebuilding plan within two years. The lawsuit notes that between 2013 and 2019, over 9,000 starving California sea lion pups and yearlings washed up on beaches and that from 2010 to 2015, brown pelicans had unprecedented reproductive failures in the U.S. Pacific area due to lack of adequate sardines and anchovies.