July 2, 2008

Boatload of Sardines: Fishermen Take in Decent Haul on Opening Day in Monterey: Fishermen Take in Decent Haul on Opening Day

By Dennis Taylor, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

Jul. 2--Monterey will never again be known as "The Sardine Capital of the World," as it was in the 1930s and '40s, but three fishing boats delivered 135 tons of sardines to Wharf No. 2 early Tuesday, a haul that drew an upbeat proclamation from a local captain.

"The ocean is healthy," said Tom Noto, a third-generation Monterey fisher who pilots the Lady J. "We're seeing a lot of big schools of sardines out there right now, just like in the olden days. The fishery is very regulated nowadays. We have a strict quota, but the fish are just coming back, and this catch today is very good news."

How good? The crews of the Lady J, the Trionfro, and the Maneo Bros. caught the fish late Monday in one hour.

Scientists at California Fish and Game have estimated a biomass of 832,000 tons of sardines off the California Coast this season, 9.6 percent of which may be fished. That strict limit is a good thing, said Rick Mayer, a buyer.

"This has been the most-studied fishery in the world since the industry collapsed in the 1940s and 1950s," Mayer said. "When we get our 9.6 percent, they'll shut us off, which is the way we want it. There's no benefit for us in not being good stewards of the resource."

Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit organization that represents the state's historic wetfish industry, said biologists may have under-estimated the population.

"The excitement here is that the fish are, we

believe, far more abundant than what scientists have been able to estimate," she said.

One Northern California boat captain reported seeing an estimated 2 million tons of sardines Monday afternoon when he sailed from Point Arena to Monterey, said Neil Guglielmo, captain of the Trionfro.

Sardine populations rise and fall in cycles, but such sightings are positive signs, Guglielmo said.

"The fishing is coming back here," he said. "The demand is growing all the time, and we no longer have a fear of overfishing because we're tightly regulated."

Another good indicator, he said, is the large number of sea lions off Monterey's coast. Sea lions feed heavily on sardines, often raiding fishing nets to devour at least half of the haul.

In the Central Coast's sardine heyday through the 1930s, there were 84 purse seiners (and 100 boats, total) fishing the area. Nowadays, there are four such boats on Monterey Bay, a half-dozen more at Moss Landing, and only 60 with permits off the entire California Coast.

California Fish and Game has divided the sardine year into three seasons -- Jan. 1 to June 30, July 1 to Sept. 14, and Sept. 15 to the end of the year, each of which ends abruptly when the 80,000-ton quota has been reached. In the 1930s, the haul in Monterey was estimated at 200,000 tons per season.

The strict regulations, coupled with such natural factors as water temperatures and ocean currents, have enabled sardines to spawn in greater numbers and grow into larger, healthier fish in recent years.

"The rehabilitation of the sardines has come back pretty strong," said Pete Guglielmo, Neil's younger brother, who owns Oxnard-based Southern Cal Seafood Co. "We've been fishing off of Southern California for a while, but we decided we want to get involved with the Monterey fishery because they have larger sardines up here."

Tuesday's haul brought a level of activity to Wharf No. 2 that hasn't been seen in nearly a decade.

"This is what this wharf was designed for," said Noto as a conveyer belt dumped thousands of fish into large, ice-filled bins. "It's really nice that we're still able to do this."

Noto, Neil Guglielmo and Sal Maneo, pilot of the Maneo Bros. boat, expect similar success today on the second day of sardine season. To Noto, who fished opening night with his two young sons, that is an emotional development in his profession.

"It's been my dream all my life to fish for sardines in Monterey," he said. "I stood out there on the boat the other night and said, 'God, this is just like when my grandfather was out here.'"

With no more canneries in Monterey for packaging, most sardines will be shipped frozen to other parts of the world for sale.

Dennis Taylor can be reached at [email protected] or 646-4344.

Sardines at a glance -- Three boats fishing Monterey Bay on opening night combined to deliver 135 tons of sardines to Monterey Municipal Wharf No. 2 early Tuesday. -- Scientists at California Fish and Game have estimated a biomass of 832,000 tons of sardines off California's coast this season. -- Strict quotas will limit fishermen to about 80,000 sardines in each of three fishing seasons this year -- 9.6 percent of the total biomass estimated by California Fish and Game. -- In its 1930s, when Monterey was called "The Sardine Capital of the World," Monterey Bay had 84 purse seiners (and more than 100 total boats) bringing in about 200,000 tons of sardines per season -- a number which ranked third in the world. Today there are about 10 boats working out of Monterey and Moss Landing, and only 60 licensed to fish for sardines in California. -- Historically the sardine fishery was the largest fishery in the Western Hemisphere. During the heyday of the fishery, 1915-1951, California landed 83 to 93 percent of the total West Coast catch. -- At the zenith of the sardine fishery (circa 1945), Monterey boasted 19 canneries and 20 reduction plants. Source: California Wetfish Producers Association ------


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