If you didn't know better, you might think that forage fish like sardines and squid are on the brink of destruction in California.
That's what some activists imply. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
California's coastal pelagic "forage" fisheries are the most protected in the world, with one of the lowest harvest rates.
In addition to strict fishing quotas, the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) has implemented no-take reserves, including many near bird rookeries and haul out sites to protect forage for marine life.
But activists are pushing even more restrictions in the form of
Assembly Bill 1299.
California already provides a science-based process to manage forage
species. The federal Pacific Fishery Management Council is also
developing a California Current Ecosystem Management Plan, covering the
entire West Coast, not just California state waters. Further, the
federal Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan that governs
these fish adopted an ecosystem-based management policy more than a
To initiate new legislation like AB 1299 as if no regulation exists
is fiscally irresponsible and disrespectful of California's management
The National Marine Fisheries Service voiced concern about the bill's
redundancy and overlap with federal management, pointing out that it
could actually impede ecosystem-based management.
AB 1299 won't protect forage species because virtually all range far
beyond California state waters, which only extend three miles from
But the bill does jeopardize the future of California's historic
wetfish fisheries, the backbone of California's fishing economy. AB 1299
restricts California fishermen unfairly, because virtually all the
forage species listed are actively managed or monitored by the federal
government and most species are harvested along the entire West Coast.
In this economic crisis, why would California squander millions of
dollars - and sacrifice thousands of jobs - on an unfunded mandate that
duplicates existing laws?
Apparently this doesn't matter to activists, whose rhetoric claims
that overfishing is occurring in California now and a change is needed.
AB 1299 proponents have made many false claims about forage species.
For example, they referenced a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) evaluation of the California Current Ecosystem,
predicting a downward trend for some marine life, including squid, but
failed to explain that this report was simply a draft.
The evaluation excluded Southern California waters, where 80 percent
of the squid harvest occurs. A record spawning event also occurred in
And consider sardines. After their decline in the 1940s, fishery
managers instituted an ecosystem-based management plan that accounts for
forage needs before setting harvest quotas, and reduces quotas in
concert with natural declines in the resource. The harvest quota for the
West Coast plummeted 74 percent from 2007 to 2011.
But activists embellished a NOAA graph to "prove" their claim that
the current sardine population decline was due to overfishing. The
marine scientist who developed the graph pointed out their error,
stating, "You can rest assured that the U.S. has not exceeded the
overfishing limit based on the rules in place today."
In fact, the majority of California's fishing community -
municipalities, harbor districts, recreational and commercial fishing
groups, seafood companies and knowledgeable fishery scientists - oppose
AB 1299, seeing it as a disingenuous attempt to curtail sustainable
D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish
Producers Association, a nonprofit organization designed to promote
sustainable wetfish resources.