Golden Gate University Environmental Law Journal


Since 2013, thousands of emaciated California sea lion pups have washed ashore along the United States West Coast (“U.S. West Coast” or “West Coast”), leading concerned scientists and members of the public to wonder what’s happening off our shores. In March 2016, researchers concluded that California sea lions have been suffering from mass malnutrition because their main food sources, sardine and anchovy, are scarce. Why are these fish so scarce? Scientists say that the combination of unusually warm ocean conditions and fishing for sardine and anchovy has depleted the food supply for these animals. And sea lions are simply the most visible victims. The health of the entire California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCE), the productive swath of the Pacific Ocean that runs from southern British Columbia south along the West Coast of the United States to Baja California, Mexico, is at stake.

This article explores the fundamental changes in fishery management necessary to build the resilience of forage fish populations and the ecosystem as a whole in the face of climate change. After presenting an overview of the role and vulnerability of forage fish, the article describes the current management framework for forage species in the federal Coastal Pelagic Species fishery, the current status of those species, and management responses. We then present an overview of key MSA provisions and offer recommendations for using these provisions to align forage fishery management with biology and ecology of these species, including specific recommendations for protecting forage fish populations and dependent predators, focusing on anchovy as a current, important example of the changes needed to better ensure the sustainability of the CCE.


This file is an updated version of the print edition.