The Pacific Sardine Fishery: Then and Now

sardines and kelp
Sardines and giant kelp, Channel Islands

The Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax caerulea) is a small pelagic fish found throughout the Pacific Ocean. In California, the Pacific sardine fishery has historically been one of the largest commercial fisheries in the state. The fishery began in the early 1900s, peaked in the late 1930s, and then declined rapidly in the 1940s during a well-known population downturn fueled by oceanic regime changes and fishing pressure. A moratorium was placed on the Pacific sardine fishery from 1967 to 1986. Then, beginning in the 1990s, Pacific sardine landings increased as the population recovered.

Today, the Pacific sardine fishery continues to contribute to California’s economy. In 2013, the fishery for Pacific sardine was the fourth largest commercial fishery in the state of California by volume. These landings were valued at over $1.5 million dollars.

Pacific sardine
Pacific sardine

Since 2000, the commercial fishery off California, Oregon, and Washington has been managed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council under the Coastal Pelagic Species Fishery Management Plan. The commercial fishing season for Pacific sardine runs from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. The season is split up into three periods: July 1 – September 14, September 15 – December 31, and January 1 – June 30, each with an assigned harvest limit. Based on 2014 landings information to date from the second period (September 15- December 31), the preliminary harvest amount for the third period (January 1 – June 30, 2015) will be 5,084 metric tons.

For more information about coastwide Pacific sardine landings, please visit the NOAA Fisheries Pacific sardine landings web page. For more information about Pacific sardine history, research, and management, please visit CDFW’s Pacific sardine web page.


post by Anna Holder, CDFW Environmental Scientist  ♦ CDFW file photos