Playing Catch

Whale watching can happen in the Monterey Bay because the whales come here to feast on anchovy.

A year and a half ago, a federal judge ordered regulators to recalculate a catch limit for a population of northern anchovy. When nothing happened, environmental groups went to court, and then went to court again, and finally got the judge to enforce her ruling.

Now, the National Marine Fisheries Service has published a new catch limit. It’s almost identical to the previous one and Oceana, a conservation nonprofit, says the agency is repeating much of the same improper scientific methodology that landed them in court to begin with.

“I have never seen an agency fight and resist a court order like this,” says Andrea Treece. She’s an attorney with Earthjustice, which specializes in environmental litigation and is suing the federal government on behalf of Oceana.

“In the new rule… the Fisheries Service doubles down on its previous unlawful approach and attempts to lock in catch limits for an indefinite period that fail to account for the fact that the anchovy population undergoes frequent and rapid declines,” states the lawsuit, filed on June 28.

Geoff Shester, a senior scientist with Oceana, says his group is focused on protecting anchovies from overfishing because of the importance of the species to the ecosystem. Whales, sea lions and pelicans are among the animals that depend on anchovy.

Because much is at stake ecologically, it doesn’t make sense to use a “catch-it-and-forget-it” approach to managing anchovy, Shester says. He suggests that the catch limit be adjusted continuously based on ocean data that the Fisheries Service collects anyway.

But California Wetfish Producers Association, representing anchovy fishermen and the wider wetfish industry, says the catch limit was properly set. “Oceana wants to shut us down,” association Executive Director Diane Pleschner-Steele says. “They are libeling the industry by saying we are overfishing.”

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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