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National Fisherman: The boom and bust of Pacific sardines

January 31, 2016

IMG_3040I wrote this last fall for National Fisherman’s North Pacific Focus on my failed experience chasing the few remaining schools of Pacific sardines.

Last April I received a text from an old captain telling me his boat was in Reedsport, Ore., and that they needed a replacement deckhand for sardines. The Pacific Coast was dry with a looming closure of the fishery for the 2015- 16 season imminent. They were fishing the last of the 2014-15 quota, after most boats from California to Washington preferred to stay tied up rather than test their luck in the empty seas. A local crabber claimed there were schools of sardines as far as the eye could see out- side Winchester Bay, so a market was set up and a few lucky seiners came in.

The few boats shing had already landed nearly a million pounds each. With an ex-vessel price in excess of $350 a metric ton, they were raking in money. Tax Day was fast approaching and the IRS demanded money I didn’t have, so I packed up my things and hightailed it to Oregon, even though I felt like a cowboy chasing after the least heard of buffalo on the Great Plains.

Under current regulation, the Pacific sardine fishery must be shut down when the biomass falls below the cutoff threshold of 150,000 metric tons. NOAA biologists found there to be less than 100,000 metric tons in 2015. On April 12, the Pacific Fishery Management Council said there would be no directed sardine fishery from July 1, 2015, to June 31, 2016.

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