BC’s Sardine Fishery Collapse – Affecting the Economy & Ecology, along the entire Food Chain

(By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun)

A $32-million commercial fishery has inexplicably and completely collapsed this year on the B.C. coast.

The sardine seine fleet has gone home after failing to catch a single fish. And the commercial disappearance of the small schooling fish is having repercussions all the way up the food chain to threatened humpback whales.

Jim Darling, a Tofino-based whale biologist with the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, said in an interview Monday that humpbacks typically number in the hundreds near the west coast of Vancouver Island in summer. They were observed only sporadically this year, including by the commercial whalewatching industry.

“Humpbacks are telling us that something has changed,” he said. “Ocean systems are so complex, it’s really hard to know what it means. For one year, I don’t think there’s any reason to be alarmed, but there is certainly reason to be curious.”

Humpbacks instead were observed farther offshore, possibly feeding on alternative food sources such as herring, sandlance, anchovies, or krill, but not in the numbers observed near shore in recent years.

The sardine, also known as pilchard, has a uniquely fascinating history.

Sardines supported a major fishery on the B.C. coast in the mid-1920s to mid-1940s that averaged 40,000 tonnes a year.

Then the fish mysteriously disappeared – for decades – until the first one was observed again in 1992 during a federal science based fishery at Barkley Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

With the re-emergence of the sardines came the humpbacks, around 1995, becoming so numerous in coastal waters off Vancouver Island that they supplanted grey whales as the star attraction of the whale-watching industry.

Peter Schultze, a senior guide and driver with Ocean Outfitters, said humpbacks are normally found seven to 10 kilometres or closer to shore, but this year were about 18 to 32 kilometres out. That meant for more travel time and fuel burned and less time with the humpbacks, if they were observed at all. “There were a lot of days where people got skunked.”

Overfishing had long been blamed for the disappearance of sardines from B.C. waters. But scientists today attribute the overriding cause to changes in ocean conditions that proved unfavourable to sardines.

B.C. started commercial fishing for sardines in 2002, and in 2013 had an allowable catch of about 25,000 tonnes, which compares with a total estimated population of 659,000 tonnes.

Height”between the logo and other graphic it’s placement is appropriate to its relative “This year was unexpected,” said Lisa Mijacika, a resource manager with Fisheries and

Oceans Canada in Vancouver, noting fishing did take place in California and Oregon. “They are a migratory fish heavily influenced by ocean conditions.” Scientists from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico will meet in December to try to find answers to the sardine’s movements.

There are now 50 B.C. commercial sardine licences, half held by First Nations.

The fishery normally operates from July to November, but not this year.

“They’ve given up looking, pulled the plug,” confirmed Lorne Clayton, executive-director of the Canadian Pacific Sardine Association. “It certainly was disappointing. It’s cost them time, fuel, and crew to go out and look, with no compensation.”

While seiners fishing close to the surface got skunked, he noted that commercial hake fishermen with trawl nets at depths of 200 to 350 metres reported catching hake “filled with sardines,” Clayton said. “I think they didn’t come to the surface this year. Right now, it’s all speculation.”

Darling said that doesn’t explain the sudden change in humpback behaviour off the island. “If sardines were there in any number, you’d think the whales would have figured that out,” he said. “I don’t think anyone really has a bead on what’s going on.”

Clayton said the B.C. sardine fishery has a wholesale value of about $32 million, with the fish going into the canned market, as well as for reduction and oil. The loss of the fishery this year could have repercussions for next.

“Not only does it affect their livelihood but it puts a hole in the marketplace,” he said. Even if sardines come back next season, “you may have to claw your way back into the marketplace.”

Clayton said that ocean temperatures tides, plankton and light are all factors that could be influencing the sardines.

“In a given year, fishermen have to search them out to go fishing. They don’t just arrive at your boat.”

He noted that the sardine fishery also collapsed this year in South Africa. “They disappeared entirely with no evidence at all.”

Darling said society should question whether the greater value of sardines is as prey for natural predators in the ocean, including the humpbacks upon which the whale-watching industry depends so heavily.

“Would it not make sense to leave the fish that are driving the whole system and supporting virtually everything? There are some important questions to be asked about the sardine fishery.”

Ocean Damage: Worse than Thought

New Scientific Report: Oceans are changing faster than previously thought.
This could have dire consequences for both human and marine life.

(By Alex Kirby
See: http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2013/10/ocean-damage-is-worse-than-thought/)

LONDON, 3 October – Marine scientists say the state of the world’s oceans is deteriorating more rapidly than anyone had realised, and is worse than that described in last month’s UN climate report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They say the rate, speed and impacts of ocean change are greater, faster and more imminent than previously thought – and they expect summertime Arctic sea ice cover will have disappeared in around 25 years.

Their review, produced by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, agrees with the IPCC that the oceans are absorbing much of the warming caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

But it says the impact of this warming, when combined with other stresses, is far graver than previous estimates. The stresses include decreasing oxygen levels caused by climate change and nitrogen run-off, other forms of chemical pollution, and serious overfishing.

Professor Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford, IPSO’s scientific director, says: “The health of the ocean is spiralling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated.”

The IUCN’s Professor Dan Laffoley says: “What these latest reports make absolutely clear is that deferring action will increase costs in the future and lead to even greater, perhaps irreversible, losses.”

Damaged molluscs found

The review says there is growing evidence that the oceans are losing oxygen. Predictions for ocean oxygen content suggest a decline of between 1% and 7% by 2100.

The loss is occurring in two ways: through the broad trend of decreasing oxygen levels in tropical oceans and areas of the North Pacific over the last 50 years, and because of the “dramatic” increase in coastal hypoxia (low oxygen) associated with eutrophication, when excessive nutrient levels cause blooms of algae and plankton.

The first is caused by global warming, the second by increased nutrient runoff from agriculture and sewage.

The authors are also concerned about the growing acidity of the oceans, which means “extremely serious consequences for ocean life, and in turn for food and coastal protection”. The Global Ocean Commission reported recently that acidification would make up to half of the Arctic Ocean uninhabitable for shelled animals by 2050.

Professor Rogers told the Climate News Network: “At high latitudes pH levels are decreasing faster than anywhere else because water temperatures are lower, and the water is becoming more acidic. Last year, for the first time, molluscs called sea butterflies were caught with corroded shells.”

When atmospheric CO2 concentrations reach 450-500 parts per million (ppm) coral reefs will be eroded faster than they can grow, and some species will become extinct. Projections are for concentrations to reach that level by 2030-2050: in May they passed 400 ppm for the first time since measurements began in 1958.
Methane a concern

With the ocean bearing the brunt of warming in the climate system, the review says, the impacts of continued warming until 2050 include reduced seasonal ice zones and increasing stratification of ocean layers, leading to oxygen depletion.

It also expects increased releases from the Arctic seabed of methane, a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere (the releases were not not considered by the IPCC); and more low oxygen problems.

Another stress identified is overfishing. Contrary to claims, the review says, and despite some improvements, fisheries management is still failing to halt the decline of key species and damage to ecosystems. In 2012 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said 70% of world fish populations were unsustainably exploited.

The scientists say world governments must urgently reduce global CO2 emissions to limit temperature rise to under 2°C – something which would mean limiting all greenhouse gas emissions to 450 ppm.

They say current targets for carbon emission reductions are not enough to ensure coral reef survival and to counter other biological effects of acidification, especially as there is a time lag of several decades between atmospheric CO2 emissions and the detection of dissolved oceanic CO2.

Potential knock-on effects of climate change, such as methane release from melting permafrost, and coral dieback, mean the consequences for human and ocean life could be even worse than presently calculated. The scientists also urge better fisheries management and an effective global infrastructure for high seas governance. – Climate News Network