20140724-Pacific Sardine Geoff Shester-600x298.jpg

Iscol intern Morgan Greene ’16 is at work this summer on Monterey’s famous Cannery Row, revisiting the sardine industry at the heart John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, Cannery Row.  

Summer on Cannery Row

July 24, 2014

20140724-Pacific Sardine Geoff Shester-600x298.jpg

Iscol intern Morgan Greene ’16 is at work this summer on Monterey’s famous Cannery Row, revisiting the sardine industry at the heart John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel, Cannery Row. Working in the California offices of Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization, she is developing a sustainable strategy for managing North America’s sardine catch. She’s helping Oceana craft a three-nation plan to ensure the future survival of this important commercial tiny fish.


My summer internship is set on the rocky shores of Monterey, California, the legendary home of the once vital fish-canning district, Cannery Row. My project is dedicated to preserving the population-fluctuating Pacific sardine, the very same fish that caused the boom-bust cycle that novelist John Steinbeck captured in his popular book written some 70 years ago.

I’m an incoming junior in Arts and Sciences at Cornell. As a government major, I am a bit of a fish out of water in the ocean science world. But I was happy to jump into an Iscol internship at Oceana’s Pacific office, examining the potential for collaborative Pacific sardine management between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. I have been privileged to work directly with the head of Oceana California, Dr. Geoff Shester. With his guidance, I transitioned into the world of fishery policy, acronyms and all. For me, the project has been the perfect blend of law, policy, international relations, and conservation—all my passions, rolled up into protecting this little fish.

My project is to develop a trinational approach to managing sardines, an essential forage fish that is important for the commercial fishing industry and the success of marine animals all the way up the food chain. Although data is now shared among the U.S., Mexico, and Canada through the Trinational Sardine Forum, the lack of coordinated quotas means the collective coastwide catch can easily exceed target levels.

My work this summer suggests that a coordinated approach between the three nations could be a win-win, commercially and environmentally. One model based in game theory—which uses mathematics to analyze strategic decision making—produced by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Ottawa shows that a trinational management strategy would create substantial economic payoffs for the U.S., while greatly reducing threats to the Pacific sardine population.

Fair and equitable management among countries is especially crucial during low-population periods associated with environmental fluctuations. We are currently in a cold ocean temperature regime, similar to that of the Cannery Row era, with associated population drops. As a transboundary stock that is highly dependent on water temperatures, Pacific sardines present unique management challenges.

My project provides basic background information to move toward a long-term goal of trinational sardine management, potentially through a treaty. I am examining the historical relations among these nations and the treaty precedents. For example, the Pacific Whiting Treaty, which allocates a set percentage of the whiting harvest quota to American and Canadian fishermen, has been a success—but the working relationship between the two countries has recently frayed with the U.S. effort to rewrite the Pacific Albacore Tuna Treaty. Finally, I am organizing and devising a campaign strategy for Oceana from the economic, political, and legal sides to meet trinational management goals for the Pacific sardine.

20140724-Morgan Greene-300x220.jpg Allison Webster (left) and Morgan Greene, 2014 Iscol interns at Oceana, kayaking in Monterey Bay

This has been an intense, inspiring, nonstop internship. Most notably, Oceana flew us down to Garden Grove, California—Disneyland!—for the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting. The meeting was eye-opening, watching the development and implementation of fisheries policy (and the millions of acronyms) in practice. I was given the opportunity to meet with key players from NOAA and other nongovernmental organizations, receiving their feedback and suggestions for moving forward with my project. The trip’s peak was my testimony about my project in front of the council. The council responded favorably, with the California representative commending the project.

It has also been a pleasure to be in Monterey, especially doing ocean conservation work. Our office is right on the beach, a perk that comes in handy when our boss brings in kayaks during our lunch break. Surrounded by the ocean, we won’t lose sight of our goal to protect it. With only a few weeks left, my research is wrapping up with only an interview or two still on the horizon. In the other room, my boss Dr. Shester is currently reading the first draft of my report and proposal. Fingers crossed and more to come!