Small Fish Win Big Protections in the U.S. Pacific Ocean | Oceana

Small Fish Win Big Protections in the U.S. Pacific Ocean

Press Release Date: April 4, 2016

Location: Monterey, California


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

Monterey, CA —The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a final rule today prohibiting the development of new commercial fisheries for forage species in all federal ocean waters offshore Washington, Oregon, and California (3-200 nautical miles). These regulations implement a unanimous decision by the federal Pacific Fishery Management Council which voted in March 2015 to proactively protect forage fish.

“Abundant populations of forage species are critical to healthy ocean ecosystems,” said Ben Enticknap, Pacific campaign manager and senior scientist with Oceana. “Protecting forage fish from developing fisheries benefits whales, dolphins, seabirds and existing fisheries like tuna and salmon.”

The forage fish protected by this action include round and thread herring, mesopelagic fishes like lanternfish (also called myctophids), Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury, Silversides, Osmerid smelts like eulachon and surf smelt, and most pelagic squids. Combined, these include hundreds of species that play an important role as prey in the California Current ecosystem. The final rule prohibits commercial fisheries from targeting these fish and sets limits on the amount that can be incidentally caught in existing fisheries. The rule does not affect existing forage fish fisheries like Pacific sardine, anchovy or Pacific herring.

Combined with previous decisions to protect krill, this action means the majority of forage fish off the U.S. West Coast are protected from directed commercial fisheries.

“This is a groundbreaking policy shift in how we approach the remaining unexploited resources in our ocean,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California campaign director. “Before proceeding with new fisheries on forage species, managers must demonstrate fisheries can be conducted without harming the ocean ecosystem.” 

Globally, there is increasing demand for forage fish used to produce fishmeal for aquaculture and agriculture industries. Rather than respond to an emerging fishery that could have far reaching impacts, today’s rule sets regulations specifying that these small fish cannot be commercially targeted unless and until it is known they can be fished without causing harm to the ocean ecosystem or existing fisheries.

“We are calling on West Coast states to implement parallel measures to protect forage fish in ocean waters under their jurisdictions,” said Enticknap. “Protecting forage fish from new fisheries is not only sensible; it is a sound approach to protecting ocean food webs that could be applied across the world’s oceans.” 


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation. We run science-based campaigns and seek to win policy victories that can restore ocean biodiversity and ensure that the oceans are abundant and can feed hundreds of millions of people. Oceana victories have already helped to create policies that could increase fish populations in its countries by as much as 40 percent and that have protected more than 1 million square miles of ocean. We have campaign offices in the countries that control close to 40 percent of the world’s wild fish catch, including in North, South and Central America, Asia, and Europe. To learn more, please visit