The Bottom Line: Little Fish Do Matter

Note: This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, Director of†Federal Fisheries Policy at the Pew Environment Group.

Small fish such as sardines and anchovies donít get much love. But these little fish provide essential food for all the marine life that we like to catch, eat or watch. Unfortunately, most fisheries managers havenít thought too much about these prey fish, either ó until now, that is.

On the West Coast, the†Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in June and consider new management options it could develop to safeguard prey species that arenít currently protected, even though they occupy a crucial position in the marine food web. The public is also starting to pay more attention. The council received more than 14,000 comments from people around the country who want stronger protections for the little fish that sustain bigger fish, seabirds and marine mammals. The council now has a chance to demonstrate its leadership to fellow fishery managers around the world.

Forage fish, which also include species such as saury, smelt and sand lance, eat tiny plants and animals drifting near the surface and turn them into protein that is consumed by everything else higher on the food web, including recreationally and commercially important big fish such as tuna, halibut and salmon.

The Pacific councilís consideration of this issue follows the release of new science demonstrating the vital importance of small fish to marine ecosystems. The†report (PDF), issued in April by the†Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, noted that forage fish account for 37 percent of the total global catch of wild marine fish and are mostly used to feed livestock, poultry and farmed fish. (The Lenfest Ocean Program, established in 2004 by the Lenfest Foundation, is managed by The Pew Charitable Trusts.)

The scientists noted that, in general, current management measures are not sufficient to protect these important species as demand continues to grow. They also calculated that forage fish are worth twice as much in the water as they are in a net because of the importance of the commercially valuable fish they sustain, such as salmon, albacore tuna and cod. Moreover, this is a conservative estimate, because it does not account for the value of recreational fishing or other activities supported by forage species, such as birding or whale watching.

The panel also said fishing should not begin on forage species that we know little or nothing about. Surprisingly, that common sense approach has not caught on with fisheries management.

The Pacific council has an opportunity during its June meeting to make forage fish management a priority and to promote a healthy marine food web. Protection of these species is an essential step toward sustaining a rich and productive ocean ecosystem for generations to come. After all, little fish do matter.


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Photo Credit: Flickr User tanaka_juuyoh


greenplanet e.
greenplanet e5 years ago

Krill are also vital to Antarctic / Southern Ocean ecosystems.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e5 years ago

Very important, thanks.

Dale Overall

Small fish are essential and fascinating and while they are food source to the larger fish and aquatic life they are a varied and interesting species on their own. So many colourful and fascinating varieties abound.

Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

I like fish to eat--both today and for years to come. Fortunately I eat mostly jack mackerel which seems so far to be both managing fairly while inspite of humans and to be low enough on the food chain to have not had much chance to accumulate toxic amounts of mercury etc.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

of course they do :)

Patty Boytos
Patty B5 years ago

There is a balance in nature and MAN continually disrupt this balance .Eventually it will put man in danger .

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


marc horton
marc horton5 years ago

thans for info- everyone should care about our oceans n' stuff

Jessica J.
Jessica J5 years ago

it makes me sad that whenever humanity sees something in abundance, plants, animals, the minds switch to 'free for the taking or to destroy for fun', as if the numbers mean "inconsequential". no, those big number mean 'very important to everybody else'!

the common sense aproach costs too much money... what if we need to THINK before we act?? nah, we'll get tired...oh dear.