This post is courtesy of Paul Shively, manager, Pacific Fish Conservation Campaign.
West Coast fishery managers have taken an important step to protect forage fish as the key link in a balanced and productive ocean food web.
On June 24, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) voted to recognize the importance of forage fish and develop new regulations to protect them while declaring that the PFMC will work to “prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed.”
That statement represents a big win for responsible fisheries management. It was the result of a clear, broad and deep expression of public support — demonstrated by 20,000 public comments, approximately 50 letters from fishing, conservation, and sustainable seafood organizations, and direct testimony from people who live, work and generally reap the benefits of a healthy ocean.
These small schooling fish form the key link in the marine food web by consuming plankton and becoming protein for seabirds, marine mammals and bigger fish. Yet worldwide demand is rising to convert wild-caught forage fish into secondary uses, such as feed for livestock, poultry and farmed fish. A recent scientific report by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force cited this growing demand, as did several articles in West Coast news outlets, including a front-page story in The Seattle Times noting that forage species “may be especially vulnerable to overfishing, climate change, habitat loss and shifting ocean chemistry.”
In light of these concerns, thousands of West Coast residents urged the PFMC to act now to prevent unregulated new fisheries on forage species such as lantern fish, saury, and sand lance until we understand the potential effects on the ocean food web. The comments made the case that responsible fishery management depends on answering those questions before a new fishery begins, not after.
Many of these unmanaged forage species may be unfamiliar to the general public, but they are crucial food sources for ocean wildlife. For example, lantern fish, known for their luminescent chemical reaction that draws in both mates and meals, make up as much as 65 percent of all deep-sea biomass. And Pacific saury, which are the target of a major fishery off the coast of Japan, are a major food source for albacore tuna.
The day before the council’s discussion, a series of op-eds appeared in Oregon and California from both sport and commercial fishermen, urging the council to make forage fish a priority as the cornerstone of a well-functioning ecosystem.
“The Pacific Fishery Management Council cannot control global market trends, changes in ocean conditions or the rise of aquaculture,” longtime commercial fisherman Lee Taylor wrote in The Register-Guard of Eugene, Ore. “But it can make sure we’ve left enough small fish in the ocean to sustain iconic species such as salmon, tuna and groundfish, in order to protect a vibrant coastal economy now and in the future.”
The PFMC took an important step in the right direction in June. However, much work remains to be done. Follow the campaign at www.PewEnvironment.org/PacificFish and find out how you can help ensure that fishery managers make good on their promise by enacting firm protections for the important little fish that support a healthy ocean.
Photo credit: Pew Environment Group