On Friday the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission ended commercial fishing for smelt in Oregon waters. The action protects an important part of the ocean food web and an essential food for marine mammals, salmon, and other sea life. Conservationists applauded the move, while questioning a decision to move all fishing for herring into an unmanaged “open access” model, which removes any regulation on Pacific herring fishing.
“With climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, plastics and other threats to ocean animals, the least we can do is make sure to leave enough food in the sea,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana. “We’re thrilled that the Fish and Wildlife Commission chose to protect smelt as an essential food source, and hope to work with them to establish similar protections for herring and other forage species.”
Smelt and herring are considered ‘forage species,’ and along with squid, anchovy, krill, sardine and other small fish and invertebrates, comprise the foundation of ocean food webs throughout the Pacific.
“These little critters play a huge role in the oceans, and need big protections,” said Enticknap. “Whether you live to land a bigger fish or love watching whales, we need smelt, herring and other forage fish to make sure we pass along those opportunities to future generations.”
Smelt and herring fisheries are managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) under the Developmental Fisheries Program. The goal of the developmental fisheries program was that successful fisheries would move into a limited entry commercial fishery if viable. Non-viable fisheries would end.
The Developmental Fisheries program is ending due to legislative budget cuts, prompting the Commission on Friday to take action to close the smelt fishery and move the herring fishery to an unmanaged “open access” fishery.
Oceana testified before the Commission in support of the ODFW staff recommendation to close the smelt fishery and also requested that Oregon develop a Forage Fish Management Plan designed to recognize and protect the role of forage species in the marine ecosystem, while managing for ecologically sustainable fisheries for species such as anchovy and sardine.
The federal government recently recognized the importance of forage species when NOAA Fisheries banned all fishing for krill in West Coast U.S. waters. Oceana played a large role in that historic closure, and continues to work to protect forage species throughout the Pacific Ocean, to ensure a robust food web capable of supporting marine mammals, salmon and other fish, and seabirds.