Today the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) voted to adopt a management objective to prohibit the development of new fisheries for forage fish. The decision, however, was followed by a postponement of regulatory action to protect these important species at the base of the food web.
“The Council for the first time signaled its intent to protect currently unmanaged forage fish by adopting a strong objective. But then they further stalled any progress by not initiating the process to meet that objective.” stated Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana.
Forage fish are the ocean’s small fish and invertebrates that support a healthy marine food web as prey for larger animals - like dolphins, whales, seabirds, and recreationally and commercially important fish species like salmon, tuna and rockfish. They have immense ecological importance and financially, they are worth more in the water where they can serve their role as prey than when they are caught in a net. Fisheries for forage fish such as sardine and anchovy already have management measures and active fisheries in place, but other forage fish of similar importance in the ecosystem (like myctophids, smelts, sand lance, and saury) are not managed at all.
“The Council missed the opportunity today in its decision to begin a fishery management plan amendment.” says Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “While they recognized the importance of forage fish to ecosystems and existing fisheries, they punted to a future and unspecified date. Meanwhile the door is still open for new fisheries to develop on west coast forage species.”
The Council will ask the National Marine Fisheries Service to amend its list of authorized fisheries, which means any fisheries not already on the list will have to submit a notification to the Council before they proceed. This has the effect of a speed bump, giving the Council an opportunity to put in safeguards at the time a fishery proposes to develop. The primary concern, however, is that the increasing global demand for aquaculture feeds will make these fisheries economically viable and the Council will then have to react to developing proposals rather than be proactive and precautionary.
Oceana supports establishing appropriate and sufficient safeguards through federal fishery management plans for these small, but critically important fish, similar to actions taken by the North Pacific Council off Alaska and what this Council has already done to protect krill.
Today’s vote followed an outpouring of public testimony from commercial and recreational fishermen, small business owners and conservation groups who support moving ahead now with meaningful protections for forage fish.
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 500,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.