The Beacon

Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council Takes Stand on Forage Species

Bryde's whale chows down. ©Randy Morse  www.GoldenStateImages.com

Precautionary approaches to fishery management for the ocean’s tiny fish are picking up steam across the US West Coast.

California state wildlife advisors recently adopted the state’s first forage fish policy by a unanimous vote and federal fisheries managers recently committed to prohibit new fisheries from developing on unmanaged forage species. Now, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has become part of the broad, diverse coalition in defense of forage fish for a healthy ocean food web.

Late yesterday afternoon, the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Advisory Council adopted a resolution recognizing the important role of forage species, lending support for state and federal fishery managers’ commitments to afford additional protections to the ocean’s small, but critically important marine species. By protecting the forage base, our priceless underwater  backyard will continue to be a highly sought destination for eco-tourism, recreational opportunities, and vibrant fisheries, ultimately benefiting our entire coastal community.

The new Sanctuary Advisory Council resolution builds on the Sanctuary’s previous support for a ban on krill fishing off the West Coast, which went into effect in 2009. The Sanctuary Advisory Council’s representation from business, tourism, fishing, recreation, conservation, and various government agencies indicates a growing groundswell of support for extending similar protections to other currently unmanaged forage species, like lanternfish, neon flying squid, jellyfish, and smelts.

These sometimes underappreciated fish are extremely important food sources for everything from sea turtles to marlin to rockfish, yet they are subject to rapid exploitation by new industrial fisheries at any time. Given the heightened demand for aquaculture feeds, fisheries that once were uneconomical will become profitable.  It is not a question of if, but when this will happen. 

The new resolution will allow the Sanctuary to better support and align with the newly adopted California Fish and Game Commission policy and the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council’s initiative to prevent new forage fisheries from developing on for forage fish until we understand how their removal will affect their predators further up the food web. The state policy recently passed by the California Fish and Game Commission also prevents the expansion of existing forage fisheries until there is a better scientific understanding of what the effects would be. These new approaches enable managers to avert a crisis before one occurs without impacting existing fishing communities.

Oceana has been  working hard for increased protection for forage fish and we have won some major victories in recent weeks. Learn more about the role these crucial species play in the food web.


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