May 3 2016



WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – May 2, 2016 – Dr. Ray Hilborn, a marine biologist and fisheries scientist at the University of Washington, has launched a new initiative aimed at addressing key issues surrounding forage fish science and the impacts of forage fishing on predator species. Dr. Hilborn’s Forage Fish Project is one of several scientific efforts occurring in the next few months to expand the existing body of scientific research on forage fish.

Comprised of 14 renowned fisheries scientists from around the globe, the Forage Fish Project held its inaugural conference last month in Hobart, Australia, where it identified shortcomings in the existing forage fish research. Specifically, it found several issues with work produced by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, whose April 2012 report, “Little Fish, Big Impact,” concluded forage fish are vulnerable to overfishing, among other findings.

The Forage Fish Project, which includes two members of the Lenfest Task Force, began work to address these flaws, with the goal of producing an accompanying study later this year.

In Hobart, Project members found that most of the models used in previous forage fish studies, like the Lenfest Task Force report, left out factors such as the natural variability of forage fish stocks, and the extent of size overlap between fisheries and predators. The group also found multiple indications that the Lenfest study greatly overstated the negative impact of forage fishing on predator species.

“Most [food web] models were not built with the explicit intention of evaluating forage fish fisheries, so unsurprisingly many models did not include features of forage fish population biology or food web structure that are relevant for evaluating all fishery impacts,” according to minutes from the Hobart meeting.

Two upcoming fishery management workshops will also evaluate forage species on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., the first organized by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the Pacific Fishery Management Council. The workshop, which will be held in La Jolla, Calif., from May 2-5, will focus on how to improve stock assessment methods for northern anchovy and other coastal pelagic species. Attendees will evaluate model-based assessment approaches based on routinely assessed pelagic species from around the world, consider non-assessment approaches to estimate fish stocks, and develop recommendations for how the SWFSC should evaluate coastal pelagic fish stocks in the future.

A similar forage fish workshop will be held May 16-17 in Portland, Maine. This workshop will focus on Atlantic herring, with the goal of establishing a rule to specify its acceptable biological catch (ABC), the recommended catch level for any given fish species. An effective ABC rule will consider the role of Atlantic herring in the ecosystem, stabilize the fishery at a level that will achieve optimum yield, and address localized depletion in inshore waters.

Ultimately, these various forage fish workshops and projects are striving to use the best available science to update previous research and determine sound management practices for forage species.

Read the full minutes from the Forage Fish Project conference in Hobart, Australia

Learn more about the upcoming coastal pelagic species workshop in La Jolla, Calif.

Learn more about the upcoming Atlantic herring workshop in Portland, Maine

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