Pacific sardines may be moving north as the ocean warms, according to a new study conducted by the University of Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
This northward shift could cause a decline in landings of between 20 and 50 per cent in the next 60 years affecting fishing ports on California’s coast such as San Pedro and Moss Landing.
“As the marine environment changes, so too will the distribution of marine species,” said James Smith, a research scientist with the University of Santa Cruz affiliated with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
Rather than examine overall abundance, the study looked at how environmental shifts impact landings at historically important ports. Sardines are well known to undergo boom and bust cycles, boosting then destroying coastal economies as depicted in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row about Monterey, once one of the busiest ports in the world until the 1950s.
“Linking future changes in the distribution of species with impacts on the fishing fleet has been challenging,” said Mr Smith. “Hopefully our study can provide information about potential impacts in coming decades, and thereby inform strategies to mitigate these impacts.”
There are three stocks of sardine – northern, southern and Gulf of California. The research examined the northern stock, which ranges from southeast Alaska to the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula. Researchers noted that a northward shift by the southern stock may help offset the projected decline in landings at southern ports.