Investigator Blames Industry, Nature for Shortage


13th Annual Sardine Edition, p.1,3
April 2, 1948

Recent sardine activities, or perhaps I should say the lack of them, have done very little to change the picture presented in these columns last year. But it is perhaps worthwhile to point up a few ideas which last year's article failed to emphasize. One is that the decrease isn't sudden; the current trend started clear back in 1936.

Another is that we mustn't regard overfishing as being the sole factor in the present disaster, although it's the only one over which we have any control.

And a third is to stress the fact that some of the unfortunate practices of the past still are being continued - to the detriment of the whole industry.

A large waterfront element continues to advance explanations for the increasing scarcity of sardines. The two most fantastic involve the dumping of munitions and the effects of the atom bomb, although obviously neither of these were in operation twelve years ago when the total landings started their downward slide. But most likely explanation (and still by far the most unpopular!) is that the sardines we are searching for have already been canned and reduced. In other words, that the total number HAS decreased.

At the same time a plausible theory is being entertained that the sardine population center has moved south, and I understand that at present Dr. Clark is investigating that phase. Whatever her

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Ricketts' Report

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investigation discloses, the unpleasant fact stares us in the face that the industry is over-expanded. For many years we have been increasing the numbers of our canneries and reduction plants, while at the same time the sardine population, if not actually decreasing, certainly can't have been increasing. Even if the fish were to come back every year from now on in their greatest recorded numbers, as in the peak season twelve years ago, still there wouldn't be enough to keep all our plants running at capacity.

A chart is being reproduced to show total landings for the whole industry including floating reduction plants (floaters). This show quite clearly that our banner year was clear back in 1936. No figures are available on the Mexican canneries at Ensenada, Cedros Island and perhaps elsewhere. And no estimates have been included to show the rather large amounts of young sardines taken as live bait off the Lower California coast by tuna boats fishing the more southern waters. Figures previously issued by the Division of Fish and Game have been misleading in that tonnages unloaded at the offshore reduction plants weren't included.

Fish Bulletin 67 (dated Sept. 1947 but only received this month) is the first in which detailed figures have been shown for the floaters. The attached chart, which was first made over a year ago, carries estimated figures to cover this tonnage. These estimates are somewhat low, but the differences are slight, and no corrections have been made. In any case, now it can be established that the decrease which makes us so unhappy isn't sudden at all but started years back.

Whatever the situation may be in Southern California, Monterey operators in general seem to be willing to accept the fact of depletion. And some at least are willing to accept Monterey's hsare in the process (now that the horse has been stolen; ten years ago it different). The industry however mustn't take the entire blame. Natural conditions certainly are involved also, but just how much weight should be attached to the various natural causes and to overfishing cannot be determined. Students aren't even yet certain where the blame lies in the French sardine crisis, and this occurred more than a generation ago.

Probably we couldn't exterminate the sardine even if we tried. Humans have been trying to eradicate the rat, the mouse, the bedbug, the body louse and the cockroach for a thousand years or more, and the best we have been able to do is to keep their numbers in control. It's true that within the past two centuries the Dodo, the Great Auk, the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet, and the aborigines of Tasmania and the Aleutians have been extincted. And the American Bison and the Sea Otter almost followed suit. But all we can hope to do with sea-going forms as the whale and the sardine is to reduce their numbers to the point of commercial extinction, so as to make the industries unprofitable.

By continuing to take undersized specimens and by concentrating our fishing activities in the area, where the animals gather preparatory to spawning in Southern California we can come pretty close to accomplishing this objective. How wonderful it would be, in this connection, of only Southern Calfornia and Baja California could be scared as thoroughly as we have been in Monterey, and as the operators have been in San Francisco, Oregon, Washington, and Vancouver Island! Perhaps then we could count on the sardine making a quick come-back.

In the meantime, I have been listening to the waterfront gossip. It is being complained along the row that the Division of Fish & Game should have awakened to the danger long ago, that at least they should have prevented the taking of undersized specimens. But I reason this way: Suppose they should try (as I believe actually they did). A suave lobbyist says to the individual legislators: "Don't pay any attention to these scientists - Good fellows of course; but their heads are in the clouds. Let's listen to the hard-headed down to earth businessmen. There's no chance of depletion. There's just as good fish in the sea as any ever's been caught. Both the fishermen and the canners are agreed on that. And they know. They've had years of actual experience. Let's not have any professional new-dealing in our fisheries." So the legislators refuse to listen to the Fish and Game Division scientists. Sometimes even the Division itself refuses to support its own specialists.

And the sardine populations DO decrease (although not necessarily only through overfishing). Until finally the canners themselves (of northern California for instance) - these down-to-earth hard-headed businessmen - get concerned over the scarcity. Their profits fade, their business decreases. In desperation they appeal to the Division for protection, for a statewide regulation to prevent the taking of small sardines. What happens! There's a meeting. The canners of Southern California scream their heads off. They say: "In this region we get only mixed sardines. The proportion of small ones is often high. Don't just take OUR business too, just because the unfortunate operators in the north are suffering." Again the Division fails to act, confronted with disagreement. And in the meantime still more of the vital and decreasing breeding stock is being wiped out.

Next year or the year after even the southern operators will plead for protection (unless in the meantime natural conditions improve, conservation is forgotton, and the cycle of drought and plenty repeats itself). And then some of the sharper ones will make a dicker with Mexico so as to tap the remaining stocks running off Ensenada, Cedros and Magdalena Bay. And another resource will be gone.

In the meantime there is the rumor that the main body of sardines has moved south. This may in fact be happening, but if so it will be only one added factor in a large total complex. Fishermen furthermore have reported schools of small fish, presumably sardines, in the Galapagos region. If actually these are sardines, probably they represent an unusual northward extension of the sardine of Peru and Chile which never has been known to contact the California sardine by two thousand miles or more.

A friend in Carmel last fall sailed along the west coast of South America in a Norwegion freighter. He reports that in southern Peru and northern Chile day after day their path was through a belt of sardines which he estimated to be from several hundred yards to several miles in width and which extended up and down the coast 5 to 10 miles offshore. This needn't surprise us here. An upset balance of rainfall or plankton or sardines in one region easily may relate to compensatory imbalance before or after that time in the same region, or in some other part of this great and unified world.

With reference to our own California species, it seems to be pretty well established that two races occur. The northern feeds into a fairly separate southern race along Central and Southern Lower California. My own (but unproved) inference is that while the southern race always, or at least often recruits FROM the north, it never or rarely feeds back INTO the north. I think of it pretty much as a dead end, lacking issue, and in the Gulf of California at least, rarely attaining full maturity. However, its' conceivable that if something happened to the northern race, say if it should be depleted by a combination of natural causes and overfishing, the southern race very easily might increase to the point where it would infiltrate back into the depopulated north.

More detailed information on the essential food of the sardine, the marine plankton, will be available shortly in the form of an account of planktonic production on the Pacific coast. This is being published in the second edition of the Ricketts & Calvin "Between Pacific Tides" which will be issued this month by Stanford University Press. There will be found also tables and charts on sea water temperatures, on diatoms, or dinoflagellates and other floating organisms, some of them quite applicable to the sardine problem.

If this civilization of ours ever gets to the point where definite predictions are possible for the sardine - a point which has been reached already for the salmon and the halibut - it will be through continued and intensive scientific research. But long before that time, if we hope even to have an industry to worry about, we shall have to establish a program of conservation involving Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

When warnings were first sounded fifteen or more years ago, if such a program had been put into effect, the industry perhaps could have been standardized at 400,000 tons per season. Instead, once we hit nearly 800,000. The 1947-48 landings were less than 100,000. If conservation had been adopted early enough, a smaller but streamlined cannery row in all liklihood this month would be winding up a fairly successful season, instead of dipping as they must be now, deeply into the red ink of failure.

Concluding Remarks and Sources
Robert Roy van de Hoek
August 31, 2002
You've just read the third and final article that Ed Ricketts wrote for the Monterey Herald. It was to be Ed's final written word that would be published. It is appropriate that it was a statement on conservation and Man's impact on the ocean, because about one month later he would be killed from his automobile being hit by a train. Ed's statements in his article have come true, including that there would be a chapter on plankton in his second edition of Between Pacific Tides. The PLANKTON chapter is a fine historical statement. Also, John Steinbeck wrote the Foreward to the second edition. This "plankton chapter was printed in the 3rd edition, but it was dropped by the editor, Joel Hedgpeth in the 4th edition. In the place of the plankton chaptor, there was an essay by Joel Hedgpeth about the open sea, fisheries, and all things beyond the tides. This tradition has been continued by David Phillips in the 5th edition. I truely hope that the 6th edition will include the Plankton chapter for historical accuracy, as this is essentially, still Ed Rickettts' book. In the meantime, I will endeavor to be a scribe and scientist, and print it as a web page in the near future.

At the bottom of the first page of this article is a sidebar box of text that discusses photographs that accompany the article by Ed Ricketts. I haven't seen the photos yet, but in a future web page revision, I will include the photos. The best that I can do at this time is to include the text of the sidebar:

The photo-montage on this page, symbolic of the industry's ups and downs of 1948, including the trucking of sardines from the South, is the work of Peter Breinig, Monterey photographer."
When I read of the trucking of sardines, approved by the Department of Fish & Game, I think of the Sea Otters that have been caught over the last 20 years that have been caught and then trucked live back to Monterey where they are released. Some of these otters promptly swim back to Southern California. Here is yet another indication of the insanity of a Department of the state government, that we as taxpayers pay to the State of California. If this goes on, what other atrocities occur in the Department of Fish and Game?

Also attached to the article by Ed Ricketts is an Associated Press article on April 2, 1948, at San Pedro. It is printed here for the interested and curious reader:

Are Sardines Following the Birds South?
SAN PEDRO, April 2, (AP)- Are Southern California's sardines emulating the birds and venturing further south each winter?
This is one of the questions expected to be answered this month when Dr. Frances N. Clark, head of the Terminal Island office of the State Fish and Game Bureau of Mexican Fisheries, heads for Mexican waters.
Dr. Clark will join the vessel N.B. Scofield later this month on a three to five week trip to find out if the center of the sardine population is shifting southward.
"Normally," said Dr. Clark, "the fish swim north each spring and summer and, like the birds, head south in the fall and winter. We know they have been going farther north each year. Now we want to find out if they are also going farther south in the winter."
She said the center of the population (sardine) formerly was off the coast of Southern California but indications point to its swing southward. Her trip will take her as far south as Magdalena Bay, Mexico, where she hopes to find the answer.

Did you notice that Ed Ricketts discussed the Sea Otter and the American Bison? And did you notice that Ed understood that procrastination leads to paralysis for the "Division of Fish and Game?" Today it is called the Department, not Division. No matter the name, they are just as paralyzed today as they were 54 years ago. The Department waits till a crisis happens, and then might still do nothing. The abalone is another example. It is now depleted and nearly gone in southern California. And there were no sea otters here to blame for the depletion. Even so, now that the abalone is gone, we still cannot convince the Department to bring sea otters back to the southern California bight. Why? Because a few fishermen, that represent less than 0.01% of the population of Los Angeles and San Diego and Orange Counties, do not want them. The Commissioners of the Department are appointed by Governor Davis, and guess what, they are all hunters and fishermen. These appointed commissioners are sympathetic to fishermen and so they will not approve the regulation that would relax the no otters in southern California requirement. Some of my research into the history of the Department leads me to conclude that the Department has actually been paralyzed since its inception, in the late-1800s, only a few decades after California statehood.

So we have a Department with 120 years of paralysis. "Do nothing" bureaucrats and politicos are those Commissioners and Department officials. There are no whistleblower scientists in the Department. Too scared to lose their job, be transferred, or forced into early retirirement. These scientists have families and home mortgages that prevent them from speaking out. Some have received 10 year and 20 year pins that demonstrate their loyalty to the Department. Maybe the Department needs to be terminated. Begin over again. Re-born and renamed as the "Department of Preservation" or "Department of Endangered Species and Disappearing Ecosystems."