What is wrong with this picture? Why are all of these anchovies dead? Last week, we were photographing lunge-feeding humpback whales off Moss Landing in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California. The next day we noticed a fishing seiner coming into port so overloaded that the aft deck was below water. When we arrived at the exact same location we had been the night before, there weren't any whales, sea lions, seals, or dolphins. We just saw thousands of birds feeding on hundreds of thousands of dead anchovies. The fishing boats had caught too much and dumped the excess into the ocean.
We began to ask questions and this is what we learned.
1) Without assessing the status of the anchovy population since 1995, the U.S. government has authorized the taking of over 55,000,000 (55 million) pounds of these forage fish every year.
2) New scientific studies estimate this stock of anchovies has collapsed to less than 45 million pounds, the lowest levels in decades, yet, the remaining population gravitates towards shallow water in places like Monterey Bay giving the false perception that the fish are plentiful.
3) The fishermen are paid $100 per ton (5 cents a pound) for anchovies, sent overseas as bait and feed for farmed fish.
4) Then, I went online and watched how Monterey Bay anchovy fishermen filmed themselves (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qL3sWyHwHRo) throwing seal bombs into their anchovy nets to scare away sea lions. No wonder there weren't any seals, sea lions or whales at the feeding grounds.