01/05/2014 - 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.
One factor is a naturally occurring climate cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which in recent years has brought cold, nutrient-rich water to the West Coast. While those conditions have brought a boom in some species, such as market squid, they have repelled sardines.
If nature is responsible for the decline, history shows the fish will bounce back when ocean conditions improve. But without a full understanding of the causes, the crash is raising alarm
Brown pelicans were listed as endangered in 1970 after they were pushed nearly to extinction by DDT, which thinned their eggshells. They were taken off the list in 2009 and now number about 150,000 along the West Coast.
Though pelicans have had more success recently in Mexico, where about 90% of the population breeds, environmental groups think the lack of food at the northern end of their range could threaten the species' recovery.
Normally, pelicans and sea lions would adapt by instead gobbling up anchovies. But aside from an unusual boom in Monterey Bay, anchovy numbers are depressed too.
"That does not bode well for everything in the ocean that relies on sardines to get big and fat and healthy," said Steve Marx, policy analyst for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit that advocates for ecosystem-based management of fisheries.
Read the full article at Los Angeles Times.