Today the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to adopt its first ever Fishery Ecosystem Plan, a vision for how to successfully manage for sustainable and valuable West Coast fisheries while maintaining the health of the ocean ecosystem. Oceana is pleased to see federal managers shift their focus from maximizing the catch of single species to a more holistic approach that strives for both sustainability and a diverse, productive Pacific Ocean environment. Importantly, the new ecosystem plan lays out the Council’s first “ecosystem initiative” to protect forage fish – small fish that are vital prey for fish and marine wildlife.
“It is great to see the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopt its first ever fishery ecosystem plan and chart a pathway forward for protecting the ocean food web,” said Ben Enticknap, Oceana Pacific Campaign Manager and Senior Scientist. “With respect to any new fisheries for forage fish, this Council is taking a look before you leap approach.”
Today’s action will help move the West Coast away from the status quo of managing fish on a species-by-species basis to an ecosystem-based management approach that considers the needs of the overall ecosystem when setting catch levels. A critical component of the ecosystem plan is a forage initiative which will set a new precautionary course for preventing the development of new fisheries on currently un-fished species unless and until adequate science can demonstrate that these fisheries may be conducted without causing harm to the ocean predators reliant on these small, but essential fish. Forage fish, like Pacific saury, Pacific sandlance, lanternfish, and smelts are important prey for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. They have a key role in supporting recreationally and commercially important fish, such as tuna and rockfish, but there are little to no protections for forage species.
“The Fishery Ecosystem Plan represents a fundamental shift away from crisis management by taking a proactive, precautionary approach,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “Protecting forage fish before new fisheries develop will safeguard our existing fisheries, coastal communities, and iconic ocean wildlife without causing economic harm to any existing stakeholders.”
The PFMC has taken measures to prevent directed fisheries from developing for certain forage species in the past, including a ban on krill harvest established in 2009 and reduced catch limits on shortbelly rockfish. Today’s action sets the stage for the first comprehensive measures to protect the base of the ocean food web.
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 550,000 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.