Portland, OR—The Pacific Fishery Management Council (“Council”), the federal advisory body that oversees fisheries policy for the U.S. West Coast, took final action today to prohibit development of new commercial fisheries for forage species in all federal ocean waters offshore Washington, Oregon, and California (3-200 nautical miles). Today’s decision is part of the Council’s first ever fishery ecosystem plan that seeks to proactively manage fisheries to ensure a healthy ocean ecosystem, and an abundant food source for commercially and recreationally important fishes like rockfish, salmon and tuna, as well as other ocean wildlife like whales and dolphins.
“Abundant populations of forage species are critical to a healthy ocean,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana. “Oceana commends the Pacific Fishery Management Council for its vision and leadership to protect these forage fish – they are the backbone of the ocean food web.”
At its meeting in Vancouver, Washington, the Council voted to protect the following seven groups of forage fish from the development of new commercial fisheries: round and thread herring, mesopelagic fishes, Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury, Silversides, Osmerid smelts, and pelagic squids (other than Humboldt squid). These seven groups include hundreds of important forage species in the California Current ecosystem.
“The forage fish protected today are more valuable left in the water than in the net” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director. “This action by the Pacific fishery council is not only sensible; it could act as a conservation model for forage fish conservation across the world’s oceans.”
Rather than opening new fisheries for little understood species, these fishery managers are first looking to scientists and the fishing industry to clearly illustrate the role forage species play in the West Coast’s marine ecosystem before new fisheries are allowed to begin. This proactive approach is particularly critical for these species given that demand for the ocean’s tiny fish has drastically increased in recent decades to meet demand for forage fish as aquaculture feed. Today’s decision does not address the management of other important forage species like sardine and anchovy that are the target of existing commercial fisheries.
“It’s a promising day for the health of the ocean ecosystem,” said Enticknap. “But it wasn’t easy to get here, explained Enticknap. “The action by the Council came after many years of hard work, deliberation by the managers, their advisors, and resounding public support.”
Since 2009, Oceana has been calling on the Council to protect currently unmanaged forage species to ensure there is an abundant prey source to support dependent predators.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to implement the Council’s recommendation following a required federal rulemaking process.