Commercial purse seine fishery for Pacific sardine

View of a commercial sardine boat at sea with a fisherman in a hard hat standing on the deck next to a large pile of netting
Photo by WDFW
Commercial sardine boat

Pacific sardines are managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) under the Coastal Pelagic Species fishery management plan. Through the Council process, scientists conduct an annual coastwide stock assessment that incorporates survey and fishery data. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee reviews that assessment and recommends an annual coastwide overfishing limit (OFL) to the Council. Each year, after considering the information presented through its advisory bodies and public comment, the Council adopts the OFL, an acceptable biological catch (ABC), harvest guideline (HG), and research set aside.  The harvest guideline is allocated by seasonal periods, with releases on July 1st, September 15th and January 1st.  The fishery year begins July 1 and ends June 30; if the period allocation is not attained it and any remaining incidental fishery set aside is rolled to the next period, but not to the next year.

Pacific sardines are the primary coastal pelagic species harvested in Washington waters. From 2000 through 2009, participation in the sardine fishery was managed under Washington’s Emerging Commercial Fishery Act (ECFA), which provides for the harvest of a newly classified species or harvest of a classified species in a new area or by new means. The ECFA offers two choices for fishery-permit designations: trial, which does not limit the number of participants or experimental, which does limit participation and prohibits the transfer or sale of the permit. From 2000 through 2002, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managed the purse seine fishery for sardine under the trial designation. Absent limited participation, the Washington fishery was managed to a state harvest guideline of 15,000 metric tons (mt). The Pacific Northwest sardine fishery saw a rapid expansion of catch between the years 1999 to 2002 when landings increased from 771 mt to 15,820 mt. In response, WDFW engaged in an extensive public process to address management needs in the fishery. In 2003, following this public process, a formal Sardine Advisory Board (Board) was created, and the WDFW Director, in collaboration with the Board, advanced the sardine fishery designation from trial to experimental as provided for under the ECFA. The number of experimental fishery permits was capped at 25. The experimental fishery program continued through June 2009.

Effective July 2009, legislation to establish a commercial license limitation program specifically for the harvest and delivery of Pacific sardines into the state was passed into law. The new law established 16 permanent licenses which can be transferred or sold. In addition, the law provided criteria for the issuance of temporary annual permits at the discretion of the WDFW Director. The total number of permanent and temporary annual licenses cannot exceed 25.