Correction appended, April 10
A rapid decline in sardine populations along the U.S. Pacific Coast may push authorities to impose a widespread ban on harvesting the species soon.
Conservationists argue that chronic overfishing has caused sardine numbers in U.S. waters to fall by an estimated 90% since 2007. However, others suggest the decline is part of a natural fluctuation in biomass.
With fewer sardines in the wild, malnourished sea lions are struggling to find food and washing up on Californian shores in records numbers, while predatory birds, like the brown pelican, are also suffering.
If the ban is enacted, it’s expected to hit West Coast seafood producers hard.
“Most sardine fishermen also fish for other species such as mackerel, anchovy, or squid,” Kerry Griffin, a staff officer with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, told Reuters. “But not having sardines available as one of their staples could be difficult.”
The council is set to make its ruling on Sunday.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated who blamed overfishing for the reduced sardine populations. It was conservationists.