West Coast sardine crash could radiate throughout ecosystem

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
By Paul Martin

If sardine populations don’t recover soon, experts warn, the West Coast’s marine mammals, seabirds and fishermen could suffer for years.

By Tony Barboza
LATimes.com
January 5, 2014

The sardine fishing boat Eileen motored slowly through moonlit waters from San Pedro to Santa Catalina Island, its weary-eyed captain growing more desperate as the night wore on. After 12 hours and $1,000 worth of fuel, Corbin Hanson and his crew returned to port without a single fish.

“Tonight’s pretty reflective of how things have been going,” Hanson said. “Not very well.”

To blame is the biggest sardine crash in generations, which has made schools of the small, silvery fish a rarity on the West Coast. The decline has prompted steep cuts in the amount fishermen are allowed to catch, and scientists say the effects are probably radiating throughout the ecosystem, starving brown pelicans, sea lions and other predators that rely on the oily, energy-rich fish for food.

If sardines don’t recover soon, experts warn, the West Coast’s marine mammals, seabirds and fishermen could suffer for years.

The reason for the drop is unclear. Sardine populations are famously volatile, but the decline is the steepest since the collapse of the sardine fishery in the mid-20th century. And their numbers are projected to keep sliding.

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