GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Federal regulators on Wednesday approved an early closure of commercial sardine fishing off Oregon, Washington and California to prevent overfishing.
The decision was aimed at saving the West Coast sardine fishery from the kind of collapse that led to the demise of Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name set in Monterey, California.
Meeting outside Santa Rosa, California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to direct NOAA Fisheries Service to halt the current season as early as possible, affecting about 100 fishing boats with sardine permits, though far fewer are actively fishing at the moment. The season normally would end June 30.
Frank Lockhart of NOAA Fisheries Service estimated it would take one to two weeks to notify fishermen and bring sardine fishing to a close.
Earlier this week, the council shut down the next sardine season, which was set to begin July 1.
The action was taken based on revised estimates of sardine populations, which found the fish were declining in numbers faster than earlier believed, and fears that without action sardines could soon reach the status of being overfished.
The council did not take Wednesday’s decision lightly and understood the pain the closure would impose on the fishing industry, said council member Michele Culver, representing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She added that it was necessary because a new assessment of sardine stocks showed they were much lower than estimated last year, when harvest quotas were set.
“We may be in an overfished state in a couple of years,” she said.