By EDWARD F. RICKETTS, Pacific Biological Laboratories
Reprinted for educational purposes by Roy van de Hoek, in its entirety from the newspaper:
MONTEREY PENINSULA HERALD
12th Annual Sardine Edition, p.1,3
March 7, 1947
The Herald has undoubtedly reported waterfront opinion correctly in stating that the shortage of sardines is being attributed to a change in the currents. I doubt very much if we can rely on such a simple explanation. I am reminded instead of an old nursery rhyme. Like the "farmer-in-the-Dell" there's a long chain of events involved. And you have to be familiar with all of them in order to know any one very clearly.
This is complicated still further by the fact that scientists haven't yet unravelled it all completely. But already quite a lot of information is available, and from most of the parts we can piece together some sort of picture puzzle. The result may be a labyrinth, but there's no way to avoid it. We just have to be patient and try to follow it through. Because I've done this myself after a fashion, perhaps I can be better than no guide at all.
By means of a very efficient straining apparatus in the gills, sardines are able to feed directly on the most primitive foodstuffs in the ocean. This so-called "plankton," chiefly diatoms (free floating microscopic plants) is the product of oceanic pastures, and like grain and grass and root crops, bears a direct relation to sunlight and fertilizer. Except that in the oceans of course you don't have to depend on the rains for moisture.
Some of these ocean pastures produce more per acre than the others. This is due to variations in the amount of fertilizer brought to the surface by a process called "upwelling."
On the California coast - one of the few places in the world, incidentally, where this happens - winds from the land blow the surface waters of the shore far out to sea. To replace these waters, vertical currents are formed which bring up cool, fertilizer laden waters from the depths to enrich the surface layers, maintaining a high standard of fertility during the critical summer months. Since the seeds of the minute plants are everywhere ready and waiting to take advantage of favorable conditions, these waters are always blooming. It's a biological rule that where there's food, there's likely to be animals to make use off it. Foremost among such animals is the lowly sardine.
The production of plankton is known to vary enormously from year to year. If feeding conditions are good, the sardines will all be fat, and each will produce great quantities of eggs. If the usual small percentage of eggs survive the normal hazards of their enemies, a very large year class will be hatched.
On the other had, the small year classes resulting from decreased plankton production, will in themselves deplete the total sardine population. If then the enemies-again chiefly man - try desperately to take the usual amounts, by means for instance of more and larger boats, greater cruising radius, increased fishing skills, etc, sardine resources can be reduced to the danger point.
An investigator at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography long ago realized the fundmental importance of plankton. He has been counting the number of cells in daily water samples for more than 20 years. This scientist, now retiring perhaps discouraged because the university recently hasn't seen fit even to publish his not-very-spectacular figures, ought to be better known and more honored. He deals with the information of prime importance to the fisheries. But in order to get this information in sufficient detail, you have to know the man, and get him to write you about it personally.
There's still another index of sardine production. This time the cat of the wife of the farmer-in-the-dell catches herself a fine succulent mouse.
A study of the tonnage chart will show all this, and more. The total figures, including Canada, tell us pretty plainly that the initial damage was done in 1936-37, when the offshore reduction plants were being operated beyond regulation. And the subsequent needs of the war years made it difficult then also for us to heed the warnings of the scientists of the Fish and Game Division.
But the same line of reasoning shows that even the present small breeding stock, given a decent break, will stage a slow comeback. This year's figures from San Pedro, however, indicate no such decent break.
During this time of low population pressure, the migrating few started late, went not far, and came back earlier than usual. Actually we had our winter run during August and September when the fishermen were striking for higher rates. By the time we had put our local house back in order, the fish had gone on south. Many had failed to migrate in the first place, and were milling around their birthplace in the crowded Southern California waters. And the San Pedro fleet, augmented by out-of-work boats from the northern ports, has been making further serious inroads into the already depleted breeding stock.
If on the other hand, next year is moderately bad - not as bad as this year, Heaven forbid, but let's hope it's decently bad! - maybe we'll go along with such conservation measures as will have been suggested by a Fish and Game Commission which in the past has shown itself far, far too deferent to the wishes of the operators - or maybe to their lobby!
If we be hoggish, if we fail to cooperate in working this thing out, Monterey COULD go the way of Nootka, Fort Ross, Notley's Landing, or communities in the Mother Lode, ghost towns that faded when the sea otter or lumber or the gold mining failed. If we'll harvest each year only that year's fair proportion (and it'll take probably an international commission to implement such a plan!) there's no reason why we shouldn't go on indefinitely profiting by this effortless production of sea and sun and fertilizer. The farmer in the dell can go on with his harvesting.
The article ends with a large photograph that shows Ed Ricketts in a white lab coat working at a microscope with a row of test tubes flasks, and pipets. The caption at the bottom of the photograph reads: "Edward F. Ricketts, author of the article which appears on this page, is shown at work above in the Pacific Biological Laboratories, on Cannery Row, Monterey. He is gathering information regarding the sardine about which relatively little is known. And it is upon his finding, and those of other scientists, to date, that he bases his article. The sardine industry is not lost forever, he says, but disregard of conservation measures may make a ghost of Cannery Row. (Herald Photo)"
The article begins with a comprehensive graphed chart that shows the quantity of sardines caught in thousands of tons, beginning in 1915 through 1946. The caption to the graph reads as follows: "CALIFORNIA AND MONTEREY SARDINE LANDINGS BY CALENDAR YEAR. The chart reproduced here is based on figures of the California Fish and Game Division as reported in fish bulletins 15, 20, 30, 59, etc., and ciruclars No. 1-20. Lower part of the column represents landings at Monterey; the entire column, California totals. Other charts, drawn by Ed Ricketts to illustrate the accompanying article, will be found on page 3." I will in a future revision of this web page include the graphs and the photograph of Ed Ricketts working at a microscope.
A sidebar to Ed Ricketts' article, on page 3 supports the irony that he analyzed regarding the sardine future and Monterey's future. The quote about new boats and trained fisherman that returned from World War II, is precisely what Ed Ricketts discussed in his article. The evaluation by Ed is profound and it is no mistake that the sidebar of information was placed between the heading subtitles of "ABUNDANT ENEMIES" and "FISHING VS. FISH." Here is the sidebar as a direct quote: