The stock is assessed with an analytical age-based model and a benchmark assessment was conducted in 2012. Fishing effort and catch limitations have been in place for over a decade (ICES, 2008b). Impacts on PET species and benthic habitats are deemed low. A new management plan, with a harvest control rules, has recently been reportedly adopted and has been found to be provisionally precautionary (ICES, 2013c). In 2013, overall catches (46,000 tons) represented 83% of those recommended by scientists (55,000 tons).
The biomass of age 1 and older fish has decreased since 2006 and is currently around the historic low. Recruitment has been below the long-term average since 2005. Fishing mortality since 2009 has been above the average of the last two decades prior to 2009 (ICES, 2014). No international annual TAC is set by management authorities and this has led the most recent catches to significantly exceed scientifically recommended limits (ICES, 2013a). The extent of mixing with sardine stocks to the north is unknown. The main uncertainties in the assessment relate to the discrepant signals about the stock trends provided by the daily egg production method (DEPM) and the comparability of Portuguese and Spanish acoustic surveys, on survey and fishery selection patterns, and on the weighting of the different data sources in the assessment (ICES, 2014a). The level of discards and slippage is not completely known.
Last updated on 28 June 2016
Improvement Recommendations to Catchers & Regulators
1. Support a decrease in fishing mortality.
2. Ensure that catches follow scientifically recommended limits.
3. Explore stock dynamics at low biomass levels further and translate findings into precautionary criteria to improve the proposed management plan.
Recommendations to Retailers & Supply Chain
1. Refer to the FishSource profile and encourage the formation of a Fisheries Improvement Project.
2. Attend or have a trade association representative attend the Southern Western Waters Regional Advisory Council meetings.
Last updated on 16 March 2015
Data is collected from Spanish and Portuguese egg surveys, and acoustic surveys conducted in the first quarter of the year and from landings and catch–at-age data (ICES, 2014a,b). An age-based analytical (Stock Synthesis v3) stock assessment model is applied since the last benchmark assessment (ICES, 2012a), combining information from the various sources. Previously, recruitment estimates from the assessment were corroborated by a Portuguese acoustic survey in November but this was discontinued in 2008 (ICES, 2013b). The precision of estimates had been reasonable and consistent over the time series (ICES, 2012b) but a retrospective pattern has become apparent in recent year (ICES, 2013b) and the main uncertainties relate to the extent of sardine exchanges with the stock to the north of its distribution, the comparability of the Spanish and Portuguese acoustic surveys, the fishery selection pattern for older aged fish and the weighting of the different data sources (ICES, 2014a,b). Exchanges with Bay of Biscay sardine may have been higher than average in 2012. The egg and acoustic surveys do not show similar trends and are broadly averaged by the assessment. The absence of the 2012 Portuguese acoustic survey index and the three-year periodicity of the egg survey have led to recent large fluctuations in the assessment (ICES, 2013a). Changes in the assessment method and input data in the latest benchmark assessment in 2012 also led to revisions of previous estimates of spawning stock biomass (SSB), fishing mortality and recruitment. Stock abundance has revised downwards in recent years and fishing mortality revised upwards, possibly due to the acoustic and egg survey inconsistencies (ICES, 2013b). Discards are assumed to be negligible for stock assessment purposes (ICES, 2014a,b).
Last updated on 19 March 2014
In 2013, ICES advice for 2014 was based on precautionary considerations considering the 2002-2007 average fishing mortality F (F = 0.22) as an objective. As the biomass is at low levels, a further decrease in F was advised based on a linear reduction to F=0 at zero biomass, resulting in advised landings of less than 17,000 tons in 2014 (ICES, 2013a). ICES had recommended that a long term management plan should be implemented for the stock. A joint plan has been developed by Portugal and Spain and the European Commission requested in 2013 that it be evaluated by ICES. As a limit biomass reference point could not be defined from the available data, ICES concluded the plan was provisionally precautionary until more accurate estimates of reference points are available, and further projections conducted under a range of scenarios. The plan is based on a “modest” exploitation rate of F=0.22, which is in the lower range of candidate maximum sustainable yield FMSY reference points.
However, taking into account the low biomass, below previous Bloss and the below-average recruitment, ICES considers fishing mortality F should be reduced further(ICES, 2014a) This reduction is based on the ratio between the current biomass (B1+(2014) = 188,000 tons) and the average biomass in the period before high fishing mortality occurred (average B1+(2002-2007) = 406,000 tons, ratio of 41%) to F = 0.11.This results in catches of no more than 16,000 tons.
Although ICES found the new management plan to be precautionary, its advice for 2015 continued to be based on precautionary considerations (16,000 tons). Under the management plan, catches in 2015 should not exceed 19,095 tons (ICES, 2014a).
Last updated on 19 Mar 2014
No biomass reference points have been defined. In 2012, Blim and FMSY reference points were proposed by the ICES benchmark assessment. B1+= 306,000 tons, which corresponds to the lowest observed biomass estimate (B1+) from which good recruitments were produced (Bloss), was considered to be an adequate Blim reference point (ICES, 2012a). The fishing mortality reference point F50%BPR= 0.35, estimated from the spawner per recruit analysis, was considered an adequate proxy for FMSY (ICES, 2012a). Bloss is now not considered to a suitable candidate for Blim as recent biomass levels close to Bloss at low exploitation rates showed no declines in recruitment. A new FMSY proxy was estimated at 0.27 (ICES, 2013c). Aspects of stock dynamics are still insufficiently known and it has been suggested that some inferences may be drawn from studies of other sardine stocks (ICES, 2013a).
As no MSY Btrigger has been proposed, a Portuguese fisheries research institute (IPMA) technical report to MSC suggested the Btrigger for the harvest control rule be set at 1.2 times the Blim proxy that was available at the time (Bloss in 2000), =368,400 tons, intending to take into account the uncertainty of the Blim estimate in the absence of a sound basis for using a different approach (Silva and Azevedo, 2012), and was adopted as the target biomass for the 2012-2015 Portuguese fishery action plan (SMFA, 2012) and the subsequent Spanish-Portuguese joint plan (ICES, 2013c).
Last updated on 22 January 2015
The stock biomass of age one and older fish (B1+) was estimated at 188 thousand tons in 2014, and recent values were revised significantly downwards: B1+ (2015) = 169 thousand tons (ICES, 2014a). According to the new management plan it gives low probabilities of exceeding Floss or driving B1+ below Bloss and a high probability of rapid recovery when B1+ declines to below trigger values.The weak state of the stock is due to the lack of any strong recruiting classes since 2005 (ICES, 2013b). The level of recruitment and stock productivity (number of recruits per spawner) show a downward trend over time, which appears to be partly explained by the environment (Solari et al., 2010; Santos et al., 2012).
Estimated fishing mortality in 2013 (F = 0.44) was above the revised FMSY estimate (= 0.27) and also above that implied by the management plan harvest control rule (mean F=0.22) (ICES, 2014a).
Last updated on 22 Jan 2015
Stock Biomass (B1+) has been decreasing since 2006 and the most recent estimate (2012) was just a slight increase on the historically low 2011 level, which was 64% below the long-term average (ICES, 2013a). Fishing mortality had previously fluctuated without trend but following an increase from 2006 to 2011, F dropped again in 2012 and 2013 and is presently just above the time-series average level. Recruitment has been weak and below average since 2005. Landings had been stable in the range of 80,000 to 102,000 tons since 1999 but 2013 landings were the lowest of the historical series (45,818 tons) (ICES, 2014a).
In a long term period, Sardine landings at Vigo Spanish port show strong increases in catches in the late 1920s and decreases in the early 1960s, and low catches in between (Alheit et al., 2014).
Last updated on 19 March 2014
A management plan has been developed for the stock and reportedly has been formally adopted by both Portugal and Spain (SFMAG, 2012; FishNewsEU, 2013; FIS, 2013). ICES evaluated the management plan in 2013 and concluded that it was provisionally precautionary, given the current incomplete knowledge of stock dynamics. The plan contains a harvest control rule that aims for a target catch of 86,000 tons and linearly reduces the target catches to zero for biomass levels between Btrigger (368,400 tons) and the lower trigger level (“B0”=135,000 tons) (ICES, 2013c).
International annual TACs are not set (ICES, 2013a). Additional management measures are implemented independently by Spain and Portugal and include a minimum landing size, maximum daily catches, restrictions on number of fishing days permitted, enforcement of closed areas and periods (ICES, 2009a). Since 2010, annual catch limits are set for the Portuguese fishery by the Portuguese authorities but no TACs or quotas are yet in place for the Spanish fishery (ICES, 2014a). Portuguese managers and scientists worked together to put in place measures that ensure the stock recovery by 2015. Besides a 2012-2015 fishery management plan that was subsequently also adopted by Spanish managers as a multi-annual plan, managers have taken immediate measures to ensure the stock recovery: e.g., a 45 days fishing ban during the first quarter of the year, among other measures already in place.
For 2013 the annual catch limit for the Portuguese fishery was set at 36,000 tons (Despacho n.º 15351-A/2012) split into three fishing seasons. A 48-hour closure on weekends has been in place since 2011 (Portaria nº 294/2011). For 2015, Portugal set a first season quota of 4 thousand tons for the period between 1st March and 31st May. The fishery will be closed until 28th February (Despacho n.º 15793-b/2014).
The extent of mixing with stocks to the north is unknown, but only Spanish and Portuguese catches are regulated (ICES, 2013b).
Last updated on 19 Mar 2014
An international multi-annual management plan is now reportedly in place for this stock, based on the Portuguese management plan put in place for the 2012-2015 period, with the main objectives of: 1) avoiding further declines in stock biomass, by reducing fishing effort; and 2) recovering the levels of stock biomass to above the then proposed Blim by 2015. The adopted harvest control rule is based on a catch target of 86,000 tons (Cmax) when the stock is healthy (i.e. B1+ > Btrigger). Catches are to be linearly reduced from Cmax at B1+ ≥ Btrigger to 0 when stock biomass is at or below 135 tons (ICES, 2013c).
Last updated on 16 March 2015
In Spain, management measures include a maximum allowable catch of 7,000 kg per fishing day and a 5-fishing-days week limitation since 1997 (ICES, 2014a).
Last updated on 22 January 2015
International annual TACs are not set but overall catches (Portugal and Spain) have been over the scientifically recommended limits since 2008. In 2013, overall catches by Portugal and Spain (46,000 tons) represented 83% of those recommended by scientists (55,000 tons).
Last updated on 23 January 2015
Sardine is an important prey species for several marine mammals in the region including common (Delphinus delphis) and other dolphins and harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) (Wise et al., 2005). The pursuit of the same prey as the sardine fleet appears to be responsible for most incidents of bycatch of common dolphins, the species most frequently affected by the fishery, aggravated by the fact that their night-time feeding rituals coincide with purse-seining activities (ICES, 2008b). Recent surveys of this fishery have reported an increment of common dolphins’ incidental captures in 2010, although values are still below the maximum Potential Biological Removal (PBR), which is set as 2% of the Iberian populations (Nichols et al., 2011). Two species of marine turtles, the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) are also common in the area (ICES, 2008c), but interactions with the sardine fishing gears are rare (Nichols et al., 2011). Marine mammal interactions with purse-seine fisheries was recorded but compared with other fisheries, purse-seine fishing does not seem to be among the most damaging to marine mammals (Wise et al., 2007; López et al, 2003).
Data on sea-bird populations and their interactions with the fishery is sparse, but bycatch and associated mortalities seem to be low. An indirect impact of the fisheries on the Portuguese guillemots has been hypothesized, but with a high level of uncertainty (Hough et al., 2010). Data collection and conservation measures have been increasing in recent years.
Observer data and interview surveys of fishers also indicate a low impact on cetaceans, seabirds, and turtles (ICES, 2013a). The most likely way the fishery impacts on macrofauna may be via trophic relationships (ICES, 2013a) but further research is needed.
Last updated on 23 January 2015
The Iberian sardine fishery used to have one of the highest discard rates of purse seining, with 60% rejection observed in the observational study mentioned (Borges et al., 1997). This may be largely attributed to “slippage” – release before landing on-board, due to quota limitations, illegal sizes and unmarketable bycatch (Stratoudakis and Marçalo, 2002; ICES, 2009b). The current levels of discards are still uncertain (ICES, 2012b) but are under study (ICES, 2013c); however the technological improvements of the purse seine Portuguese fishery in recent years have resulted in much lower levels of bycatch. There is still no data on survival rates of discarded fish (Hough et al., 2010).
The Spanish fleet targets anchovy, mackerel, sardine and horse mackerel with sardine and horse mackerel representing 75% of purse seine landings in recent years (ICES, 2009b). Purse – seines have a low by catch of non target species and when targeting sardine, the catches are virtually monospecific. The current levels of discards are still uncertain (ICES, 2012b). There is still no data on survival rates of discarded fish (Hough et al., 2010).
Last updated on 5 April 2013
The sardine has a continuous distribution along NE Atlantic coasts from Senegal (16°N) to the North Sea (60°N) (Binet et al., 1998). However, the northern and southern boundaries change in sequence with decadal climate trends. Also changes in the proportion of the potential spawning habitat in which spawning actually occurred, but did not show any relationship with spawning stock biomass. Results from other studies show that environmental effects are often weak and in some cases findings have been contradictory. For example, upwelling intensity has been found to affect recruitment both positively and negatively. (ICES, 2014a).
Pelagic purse seining is the gear used for taking 99% of catches (ICES, 2012b). Purse -seiners operate in open waters so there is little impact on the seabed but the overall effect of the sardine fishery on the pelagic ecosystem of the Atlantic Iberian waters has not been evaluated. The most likely impacts will take place in alterations of prey–predator relationships via modification of sardine abundance, size structure, and behavior. Permanent loss of purse seine gear to the sea is rare and ghost fishing is not an issue (Hough et al., 2010).
Last updated on 05 Apr 2013
Both Portuguese and Spanish management of this fishery includes days fishing limitations and closed areas at either specified periods of the year or on a permanent basis to protect sardine, among other species (ICES, 2012c). Other temporary closures have also been enforced when necessary. The extension to marine areas of the EU Natura 2000 network of special conservation areas, under the Birds Directive 79/409/EEC and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, is currently underway and special fishery management measures may be applied.