Federal regulators have closed the rest of this year’s sardine season and will likely to keep it closed for a while.
The decision to end the sardine harvest is in response to dwindling stocks of the small, oily fish that figure prominently in the overall ocean food chain. Reports say that the sardine population has crashed more than 90 percent since 2007.
There are a number of theories about why the fish stocks have collapsed. Some say it’s due to overfishing. But a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts contends that the wide variations in the sardine population are normal and usually related to long and gradual shifts in ocean conditions.
Sardines are a key ingredient in the ocean food web. They’re forage for marine life along the U.S. west coast. So when sardines take a dive in numbers it can affect larger animals including whales, tuna, seals, sea lions and seabirds, which rely on sardines for basic food.
It was reported this year that all but a small number of sea lion pups died of starvation for lack of sardines to eat.
In the face of all this the Pacific Fishery Management Council has shut down the current sardine season for a year, which was due to begin again July 1st. And it could be longer according to industry experts.
Fishing for mackerel, anchovies and squid remains open. About 100 fishing boats along the west coast have permits to fish for sardines.