Integrated Fisheries Management Plan summary: Pacific Sardine (Sardinops Sagax), Pacific Region - Aug. 1, 2021 to May 31, 2024

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The purpose of this Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) summary is to provide a brief overview of the information found in the full IFMP. This document also serves to communicate the basic information on the fishery and its management to DFO staff, legislated co-management boards and other stakeholders.  This IFMP provides a common understanding of the basic “rules” for the sustainable management of the fisheries resource. The full IFMP is available on request.

This IFMP summary is not a legally binding instrument which can form the basis of a legal challenge. The IFMP can be modified at any time and does not fetter the Minister's discretionary powers set out in the Fisheries Act. The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reasons, modify any provision of the IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act

Where DFO is responsible for implementing obligations under land claims agreements, the IFMP will be implemented in a manner consistent with these obligations.  In the event that an IFMP is inconsistent with obligations under land claims agreements, the provisions of the land claims agreements will prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

General introduction/overview - IFMP Section 1

The Pacific sardine fishery is an opportunistic fishery dependent on the migration of sardines into Canadian waters. Sardine migration and population levels are heavily influenced by oceanic conditions that determine the survival and recruitment of juveniles into the adult stock. A sardine fishery in B.C. is dependent on favourable ocean conditions which support the growth and production of the Pacific Sardine stock.

From 1996 to 2001, there was a limited experimental harvest of Pacific Sardine by a small number of harvesters. Given the results of the experimental fishing, and the de-listing of Pacific Sardine by the Federal-Provincial Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as a species of “special concern” in May 2002, the seine component of the fishery moved to a commercial phase consistent with the Department’s New Emerging Fisheries policy (NEFP). A one-year interim plan was developed in 2002 using a precautionary approach while providing opportunity for continued assessment of the viability of the fishery and the potential for future expansion. An experimental/exploratory phase was initiated to investigate the feasibility of alternative gear types and areas.

From 2003 to 2006, the Department developed a three year fishing plan that allowed for an incremental approach towards development of the fishery while continuing to follow the principles of the NEFP. From 2007 to 2011, the Department developed an annual Integrated Fisheries Management Plan to support growth of the fishery. Following the decline of the fishery, management plans have been multi-year, reflecting the unnecessity of active management.

There are a total of 50 licences for the Pacific sardine fishery (25 commercial and 25 communal commercial licences). All commercial harvest of Pacific sardine occurs using purse seine gear. With the exception of permanent and seasonal closures, the commercial Pacific Sardine fishery, when Total Allowable Catch is allocated, may open from June 1 to February 9 each year in Pacific Fishery Management Areas (PFMAs) 3 – 13, 20, 23 to 27, 101 to 110, 121, 123 to 127, 130 and 142. When the commercial fishery was open the majority of harvest occurred from August to October.

Stock assessments, science and Indigenous knowledge - IFMP Section 2

Stock Assessment

Stock assessments for Pacific Sardine are conducted by the United States (U.S.) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The U.S. NMFS has been annually assessing the status and population trends of the Pacific Sardine Northern Subpopulation of the eastern Pacific Ocean using versions of an age-structured model. Because of its geographic distribution that can range southward from the west coast of Baja California northward to southeast Alaska, it is also known as the California Current Ecosystem sardine stock. Information from fishery independent surveys, monitoring fishery catch and landings, and biological sampling has been used to inform stock assessment models. Stock assessment methods have changed over the years and are expected to further evolve over time as part of multi-year review processes facilitated by the US Pacific Fishery Management Council.

From 1997 to 2014, data from summer DFO pelagic trawl surveys off the west coast of Vancouver Island were used to characterize the regional distribution, relative abundance, and biological information of sardine in BC waters. In 2006, 2008-2014 night trawling was conducted to reduce the variability in catch data of sardine and improve characterization of fish diet observations.  Using data from trawl surveys, methods to estimate seasonal biomass and migration of sardine have been developed (Schweigert and McFarland 2001; Schweigert et al 2010; Flostrand et al 2011). Since 2014, no consistent DFO multi-year survey plan has been employed to specifically monitor sardine occurrence and ecology in BC waters but information is also collected from other DFO multi-species pelagic surveys off the west coast of Vancouver Island (and other areas) which may catch sardine.

Ecosystem Interactions

Pacific Sardine occurrence in, and migrations to, waters of the Pacific Northwest of North America are mainly to feed on abundant plankton resources associated with summer months. The extent of the northward migration is in part related to oceanographic conditions, particularly sea surface temperature, such that stocks move further north during warmer years. Sea surface temperature has also been related to juvenile survival for recruitment to the adult spawning population with stronger recruitment occurring during warmer years.

Similar to other forage fish species in BC waters, sardine are eaten by a variety of predators, such as salmonids, sharks, sea lions, seals, Humpback whales, and seabirds. The seasonal distribution of sardine in BC waters corresponds with the foraging and migrating seasons of some of their predators, such as Coho and Chinook salmon and Humpback whales. Ongoing research is helping scientists and fisheries managers to develop a better understanding of ecosystem processes, including environmental effects on sardine recruitment, and the role that sardines play in ecosystem structure and function.

Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous Knowledge has not been generally available on sardine. However, when available, it will be considered in science decisions and the management of the fishery.

Social, cultural, and economic importance - IFMP Section 3


Sardine fishing for Food, Social, and Ceremonial (FSC) purposes may be authorized upon request. Sardine fishing may also be permitted through the Maa-nulth Harvest Document, or through other treaty-related mechanisms.


Recreational fishing may occur to provide food for personal use, as a leisure activity, or as a combination of the two. The recreational community includes local residents, multi-species charter operators and lodges, and visiting anglers and boaters. These activities provide a range of benefits to the participants as well as contribute directly and indirectly to economic activity.


The majority of the most recently active sardine vessels stacked licences and their associated quota. Based on the most recent (2009) financial profile of the fishery, the average vessel had an estimated boat return of approximately $30,000. Five vessels accounted for just over half of all sardine licences (communal commercial and commercial). While vessels that have been active in the sardine seine fishery were also often active in the salmon and herring fisheries, the majority of their gross revenue (more than 50%) was from the harvest of sardines in 2009.

A notable future challenge in the sardine fishery, should commercial harvest resume, will be finding appropriate buyers for this product. The BC sardine harvest, like the much larger U.S. sardine harvest, is mostly destined as low value bait in the tuna high seas longline fishery. Past efforts to gain access to the higher value food product market have had mixed results.

Access and allocation - IFMP Section 5

The Minister can, for reasons of conservation or for any other valid reason, modify access, allocations, and sharing arrangements as outlined in this IFMP in accordance with the powers granted pursuant to the Fisheries Act.


Indigenous harvest of Pacific Sardine for FSC or domestic purposes may occur coast wide where authorized by a communal licence or Harvest Document.


Recreational harvest of Pacific sardine is permitted through a British Columbia Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Licence. The daily limit for Pacific sardine is 100 pieces and the possession limit is 200 pieces (Variation Order 2016-74).


Commercial harvest of Pacific Sardine is not currently permitted.

Contact us

For additional information on this IFMP Summary, please contact Brad Langman at or to view an electronic version of the full IFMP please visit our library.

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