Last weekend, PBS NewsHour Weekend Edition aired a feature story on Oceana’s campaign to end drift gillnet use off California. This commercial fishery sets out mile-long nets at dusk to catch swordfish and thresher sharks, but these nets also capture an abundance of other marine wildlife—including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, and other ecologically and economically important fish. In fact, the fishery throws overboard 61 percent of everything it catches.*
While lax catch limits for federally-managed west coast forage fish like sardines continue to be a source of major concern, the state of California announced today that, at least for state-regulated forage fisheries like squid and herring, it would embrace a new ecosystem-based management system, with an eye towards sustainability.
Forage fish may not be as charismatic as sharks or as majestic as blue whales, but, these small, nutrient rich species -- like squid and herring-- have finally received their long-awaited turn in the spotlight.
Forage fish pack a punch of nutrients to whales, dolphins, sea birds, and recreationally and commercially important fish. They are critical to the survival of our magnificent blue whales as well as the recovery of depleted Chinook salmon. However, until now, these little fish have not been managed in a way that accounts for the vital role they play in ocean health and ocean economics. This will change as the California Fish and Game Commission will now make their decisions on how to manage all the state’s forage species based on a set of principles that were fleshed out with input from conservation and fishing entities.
Did you know that the brown pelican relies on northern anchovy for food? Or that the endangered blue whale feeds exclusively on tiny krill at rates of up to 4,000 pounds per day? Or that a record number of young sea lions were stranded on California beaches last year because they didn’t have enough small fish to eat?
Individually they don’t look like much, but small fish and invertebrates called “forage species” school up to form massive underwater bait balls.
These forage fish are the foundation of the marine food web and provide food for nearly everything else higher up the food ladder. Forage species, such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, anchovy, smelts, squid and krill are the critical prey for whales, dolphins, sea lions, many types of fish, and millions of seabirds.
Our new report, “Forage Fish: Feeding the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem,” shows the value of forage fish for fisheries and wildlife – and demonstrates that it’s high time that our fisheries managers recognize their big impact in the ocean.
How many forage fish are needed to feed our ocean’s wildlife and preserve the benefits forage species provide us? That is the question we are asking managers to answer and take into account when setting catch quotas.
As consumers we enjoy forage fish without even realizing it. Activities, such as whale watching, enjoying fresh wild salmon for dinner, and going sport fishing, are all possible because those top predators survive on forage fish. And they are important for the economy, too -- tourism, recreation activities, and fishing brought in over $23 billion in GDP to California, Oregon, and Washington combined in 2004 alone.
Oceana is the first conservation group to assess the current status of Pacific forage fish. Our new report details the role of forage species in the California Current marine ecosystem, the threats to forage species populations, and the flawed management structures currently in place. The report documents the large gaps in stock information and show the fisheries mismanagement taking place at multiple levels of state, federal and international government.
Providing and maintaining a healthy, sustainable ocean ecosystem does not mean shutting down existing fisheries—but it does call for change. The challenge is to extend the principles in our new report to create a new way of managing our resources that goes beyond single-species management, and considers the role of forage species within the ecosystem as a whole.
By highlighting the colossal importance of these tiny forage species, Oceana aims to ensure a healthy, diverse, productive, and resilient California Current marine ecosystem. Be sure to check out the full report and let us know what you think!
Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s start with the bad:
In a new report released this week, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warns that ocean life is "at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.
The preliminary report from IPSO is the result of the first-ever interdisciplinary international workshop examining the combined impact of all of the stressors currently affecting the oceans, including pollution, warming, ocean acidification, overfishing and hypoxia.
It turns out that the confluence of overfishing, pollution and climate change is worse than previously thought, as Oceana’s Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist Mike Hirshfield explains to CBS News in this clip: