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Sardines undergo steady growth in the Pacific

Bruce Ajari

Having lived in California all my life, I became aware of the plight of the sardine industry through my travels to the Monterey Peninsula and seeing Cannery Row first hand.

This is a region that was popularized by John Steinbeck’s book Cannery Row.

If you have been to Cannery Row recently, there are many changes that have occurred.

The canneries that were vacant have become tourist attractions such as restaurants, retail shops and hotels.

The big attraction now is the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The vacant canneries were a direct result of overfishing by the sardine industry.

In the 1940s sardine fishing was what appeared to be an endless resource. As the demand for the sardines increased, so too, did the amount of fish that were harvested.

Fish in age group classes that were seven years old were eventually harvested.

Unfortunately, it takes a sardine seven years to reach sexual maturity.

By taking fish in this age group the industry was essentially depleting a non-expanding population.

The result is familiar to all of us.

The canneries closed and were vacant until fairly recent times when the tourist industry on the Monterey Peninsula was able to utilize the vacant factories.

In 1967, because of the declines in sardine populations during the 1940s to 1960s, a moratorium was placed on the directed fishery by the state legislature.

By the early 1980s sardines were regularly encountered as by catch in the anchovy and mackerel fisheries.

In 1986 the moratorium was lifted and a directed quota of 1,000 tons was established.

Since the onset of the recovery, the sardine population is estimated to have increased by 10 to 30 percent per year in the presence of a steady fishery.

Warmer weather conditions for the past 30 years has also helped the sardine fishery rebound.

At an interagency Pacific sardine workshop held in 1983, it was agreed that the sardine population would be considered fully recovered when it reached a million tons, occupied its historic range (Mexico to Canada), and all historic age classes were represented in the population.

All three of these criteria have now been met, representing a real success story for the Pacific sardines and marine fishery managers.

This announcement came at a recent meeting with Pacific sardine industry representatives in Monterey.

At this meeting Department of Fish and Game’s Doyle Hanan and Kevin Hill presented the results from the most recent stock assessment, which estimates there are 1.18 million tons in the are of California’s coast sampled by abundance surveys and commercial fisheries and up to 1.78 million tons coast-wide.

The 1.18 million-ton estimate was used to establish California’s 1999 fishery allocation quota of 132,800 tons effective Jan. 1.

If that amount is eventually caught, it will be the largest catch since 1951.

At the peak of the fishery in 1936-37, close to 800,000 tons of sardine were landed, and the population biomass was estimated to have been 3.6 million tons.

The Pacific sardine has made a miraculous return, and proves just what can be done if we more effectively manage our natural resources.

To relate this to our trout fisheries, limiting your take goes a long way in maintaining a very valuable resource.

It is no coincidence that fishing has remained good where catch and release fishing has been practiced to a large degree.

Pay attention to what is happening to your favorite fishing hole, and try and improve things.

As with the sardine success story, our own trout fishery could be more like the “old days,” if we allow it too.

Fishing report

Fishing at Lake Tahoe remains good for Mackinaw fishermen, and fair at best for the rainbow fishermen.

Fishing in our local area is somewhat limited to ice fishing. Donner Lake has been iced over to some extent and with the ice pretty thin, not much is happening here.

The open water areas can produce for those willing to try from shore.

Boca, Prosser and Stampede are all good bets to wet a line. You will find Boca and Prosser fair to good for ice fishing.

Stampede should have decent open water to fish if you can get there.

Access is limited to the area near the dam at Boca.

From this point on you will have to snowmobile or cross-country ski to get to Stampede.

Frenchman and Davis have been reporting favorable fishing through the ice.

As temperatures rise in the month of March, be aware that ice conditions can change rapidly. Always check with the local shops before venturing out.

Pyramid Lake in Nevada is another site that has been fishing well considering the time of year.

As we get into March the fishing success should gradually increase. It has been a good winter season for most that have fished it.

Right now fly fishermen and trollers fishing close to shore appear to be doing best.


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