Restore Plummeting Sardine Populations

Target: Jim Kurth, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Goal: Restore sardine populations to their pre-1950s numbers by increasing trilateral cooperation between Canada, Mexico, and the United States and enforcing multi-national bans on sardine catchment.

Sardines, small fish in the herring family, were once abundant off the United States’ West Coast. Their numbers, once supporting the largest fishery in the Western Hemisphere, crashed in the 1950s due to pollution and over-fishing, and have since barely recovered at all, with a few gains seen in the 1980s. What’s worse, according to the NOAA, the stock of Pacific sardines has crashed once again, with the past decade witnessing a decline of more than 75 percent. This can have dangerous repercussions for west coast ecosystems, as sardines make up an important part of the diets of predators like sea lions and pelicans.

Recent years have been witness to restrictions and even outright bans on Pacific sardine fishing—as of 2017, Pacific sardine fishing has been banned in California for the third year in a row, and the Pacific Fishery Management Council estimates that only 87,000 metric tons of the fish are living off the West Coast.

However, many of these restrictions are sidestepped, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains why this has become a serious problem: “The U.S., Canada, and Mexico all manage the same population of sardines… The Pacific Fishery Management Council uses an equation that asserts that the U.S. gets 87 percent of the coast-wide catch shared by the three countries.  In recent years, however, Mexico and Canada have caught far more than the remaining 13 percent, resulting in the coast-wide catch greatly exceeding target levels…”

The NOAA also provides a plausible solution: “Achieving a shared scientific understanding of the stock status and distribution of sardines across the three nations could serve as the basis for more coordinated tri-national sardine management.”


Dear Mr. Kurth,

Encourage the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the U.S. national government and the state governments of California, Oregon, and Washington to place greater restrictions or bans on the fishing of Pacific sardines. Please also encourage greater multi-national cooperation between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. in restricting the fishing of West Coast sardines, so that their population can be restored to pre-1950s levels.

Around the middle of last century, the population of Pacific sardines collapsed, and has since remained low and fragile. Now more than at any time, with ever-greater pressures on ocean environments, vital fish populations such as that of the sardine—an important prey species—must be protected.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Tanaka Juuyoh

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