Posts Tagged forage fish

Jun 6 2021

Impacts of fishing forage fish on the fish that feed on forage fish

Small pelagic fish that school in open water—think sardines or anchovies, are eaten by all kinds of predators. Seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish feed on these small pelagics giving them the moniker “forage fish.”

Forage fish support several fisheries, particularly “reduction fisheries,” where fish are caught and reduced into fishmeal and fish oil for livestock and aquaculture. The anchoveta fishery off the coast of South America is the largest in the world, and nearly all catch is reduced. From a food production perspective, reduction fisheries turn fish that humans don’t like to eat into other kinds of meat that humans do. That isn’t to say forage fish aren’t fished for human consumption—they are and have one of the lowest carbon footprints of any food, but the majority of catch is reduced. Eat more anchovies and sardines, people!

However, forage fish also play a foundational role in many ocean ecosystems. They buoy the diets of marine birds and mammals like whales, puffins, albatross, and other vulnerable species while also indirectly supporting valuable fisheries, e.g., salmon and tuna feed on forage fish. Their role in the food chain has led to some calls to limit forage fish fisheries to boost the populations of their higher-value predators. This makes intuitive sense, but new research out this week by Free et al. shows it’s more complicated than simply “more prey, more predators.”


Forage fish and a predator | Shutterstock


A brief history of forage fish population modeling

In 2012, a prominent forage fish paper was published that advised a highly precautionary approach to commercial fishing of forage fish. They suggested that to be as conservative as possible, even fisheries currently considered well-managed should be reduced by 50% to enhance and maintain predator populations. It kicked off a decade of forage fish population modeling and scientific discussion. The major criticism of the 2012 paper was that the ecosystem model used in the paper assumed that commercial fishing had an outsized impact on forage fish populations and did not account for ocean conditions. However, forage fish populations are highly sensitive to environmental conditions. For example, long before humans were fishing them, the Pacific Sardine went through periods of significant population boom and bust. This environmental sensitivity complicates the understanding of fishing impact, especially because the predators eat far more forage fish than are taken via fishing. Surly overfishing is bad, but would further reducing fishing below sustainable levels benefit the broader ecosystem?

Scientists did more research. In 2017, a paper by Hilborn et al. showed little correlation between forage fish populations and their predators. The authors argued that if forage fish have natural boom and bust cycles, their predators should have the resilience to find other kinds of prey in times of bust (and indeed, most marine predators that forage on small pelagic fish have a broad diet and are highly mobile). Hilborn et al. challenged the 2012 paper’s recommendations for a highly precautionary approach to forage fish fisheries. However, it was still a relatively simple analysis—the authors used population data to show correlations (or the lack thereof) between the abundance of forage fish and changes in their predator populations. They found that just 5 of the 50 predators examined in that study showed a positive correlation to forage fish population.

The 2017 paper showed correlation but not causality—the paper published this week gets closer to causality by controlling for possible confounding factors, namely by using a predator dynamics model that accounted for forage fish boom and bust cycles. This hadn’t been in previous models. Further, the 2017 paper only looked at U.S. ecosystems; this paper included ecosystems in Europe, South Africa, and the Humboldt Current off South America, giving a more global view of forage fish ecosystem dynamics.

The updated model, results, and management suggestions

The Free et al. paper used a model of intermediate complexity, a step up from single-species correlational models, but not quite on the level of a highly complex ecosystem model. There’s good reason for that—the highly complex ecosystem models are too broad to look at specific predator/prey dynamics and seldom include enough taxonomic resolution. The intermediate complexity was about as advanced as they could go to look at particular predator/prey interactions.

The researchers state in the paper that the model “had high power to detect influence of forage fish on predators.“

They ran the model to examine 45 different predators that relied on forage fish for at least 20% of their diet and had similar findings to the 2017 paper—few significant relationships between forage fish abundance and predator abundance.

Our results indicate that forage fish abundance rarely impacts predator productivity, which suggests that the extra-precautionary management of forage fish would rarely achieve the intended benefits for marine predator populations.

The authors gave several real-life case studies of resilient marine predators that support their results. For example, great skuas in the North Sea have switched prey in response to the overfishing of sand eel and have not seen population declines. Little penguins in southeast Australia also adapt well. They will change forage locations based on previous years’ catch rates and communicate to other penguins about it. However, compared to marine mammals and predatory fish, seabirds were less resilient overall.

Though the analysis showed few cases of forage fish abundance affecting predator abundance, there are some important exceptions to note: Local populations can matter, especially around breeding grounds. Though animals generally choose breeding grounds because of their resilience—overfishing in those areas was shown to have the most harmful effects on predator abundance.

There was one other finding worthy of pause: in some cases, when forage fish populations went up, predatory fish populations went down. A strange result for sure—extra protection of forage fish could reduce predatory fish populations. It is thought that forage fish feed on the planktonic juveniles of the predatory fish, reducing the amount that make it to adulthood.

Marine predators need protection, but reducing forage fish fishing isn’t the answer

Fishing can undoubtedly impact high-trophic level animals, but fishing less low-trophic level fish doesn’t seem to have the intended conservation effect. Instead, the authors offer three better suggestions to protect marine predators:

  1. Reduce bycatch and incidental mortality, a serious threat to both seabirds and marine mammals, through modifications to fishing gear or dynamic ocean management.
  2. Protect breeding sites by restoring habitat, removing invasives, and reducing human disturbance.
  3. Restrict fishing close to breeding sites.

Original post:

Oct 31 2017

‘Rule of Thumb’ Management Approach Is Wrong For Forage Fish, Dr. Ray Hilborn Tells U.S. Senate

Saving Seafood interviews Dr. Ray Hilborn about forage fish management ahead of his testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.


WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) – October 31, 2017 – At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard last week, respected fisheries scientist Dr. Ray Hilborn testified that fisheries managers “can do better than a one-size-fits-all” approach to managing forage fish. He also said there was “no empirical evidence to support the idea that the abundance of forage fish affects their predators.”

Dr. Hilborn’s comments came in response to questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) about whether fisheries managers should manage forage fish according to a “rule of thumb” approach, where fisheries are managed according to a set of broad ecological and management principals, or a “case-by-case” approach, where management is guided by more species-specific information.

Dr. Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, was part of a team of top fisheries scientists that recently examined these issues, as well as what effects fishing for forage fish species had on predator species. Their research indicated that previous studies, like a 2012 report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, may have overestimated the strength of the predator-prey relationship.

Before the hearing, Dr. Hilborn spoke with Saving Seafood about his research and his message for lawmakers.

“It’s very clear that there really are no applicable rules of thumb, that every system is independent [and] behaves differently, and we need to have the rules for each individual forage fish fishery determined by looking at the specifics of that case,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood.

He also discussed his team’s finding that forage fish abundance has little impact on their predators. They looked at nearly all U.S. forage fish fisheries, including the California Current system and Atlantic menhaden, and concluded that predator species generally pursue other food sources when the abundance of any one forage species is low.

“The predators seem to go up or down largely independent of the abundance of forage fish,” Dr. Hilborn said, adding, “For Atlantic menhaden, for their major predators, the fishery has reasonably little impact on the food that’s available to them.”

Another key message Dr. Hilborn had for the Subcommittee was that fisheries managers must determine what they want to accomplish so that scientists can advise them accordingly.

“The time has come to refocus our fisheries policy on what we actually want to achieve because rebuilding is only a means to an end,” Dr. Hilborn told Saving Seafood. “Do we want to maximize the economic value of our fisheries? Do we want to maximize jobs? Do we want to maximize food production?”

In his testimony, Dr. Hilborn praised U.S. fisheries policy that has “led to rebuilding of fish stocks and some of the most successful fisheries in the world.” He attributed this success to a variety of factors, including funding of NOAA, regionalizing fisheries management decisions, and requiring managers to follow science advice. As a result, overfishing should no longer be the top priority for fisheries managers, he testified.

“The major threats to U.S. fish stock and marine ecosystem biodiversity are now ocean acidification, warming temperatures, degraded coastal habitats, exotic species, land based run off, and pollution,” Dr. Hilborn testified. “Overfishing remains a concern for a limited number of stocks but should not continue to be the most important concern for U.S. federal fisheries policy.”

The hearing was the latest in a series examining reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s supreme fisheries law. It was organized by subcommittee chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and focused on fisheries science.

Originally posted: Saving Seafood Inc.

Apr 19 2017

CFOOD: New Study Sheds Light on Relationship Between Forage Fish, Predators, and Fishing

April 18, 2017 — The following was published by CFOOD. Founded by Dr. Ray Hilborn from the University of Washington, CFOOD is a network of scientists formed to study the science of fisheries sustainability, and to correct erroneous stories about fisheries in the mainstream media:

A paper published earlier this month shows a new understanding of how commercially fishing forage fish impacts forage fish predators like sea birds, marine mammals, and pelagic finfish.

Forage fish are small, silvery, bottom-of-the-food-chain fish that eat plankton and small invertebrates. They are eaten by seemingly everything in the ocean, providing “forage” for many other animals—you’ve probably heard of the two most common forage fish: sardines and anchovies. If asked their favorite marine species, not many people would choose a forage fish, but many would choose a forage fish predator: Penguins and puffins are endearing, dolphins and seals are adorable, and tuna and swordfish are delicious. Forage fish help sustain these populations, but are also favorite foods for many cultures.

With a high oil and protein content, forage fish are also the perfect species for conversion to fishmeal and fish oil. The largest fishery in the world, Peruvian anchovy, is such a fishery. Fish oil provides essential fatty acids and is sold in drugstores as a nutritional supplement. Fishmeal is food for several of our favorite edible animals. It is especially important in farmed fish production (like most of the salmon eaten in the US), but is also fed to terrestrial livestock like cows and pigs. Essentially, forage fish fisheries take a renewable resource and turn them into protein that people eat.

But how do these fisheries affect the marine predators that feed on forage fish? This is an important question that has only recently been investigated. A paperpublished in 2012 used mathematical models to estimate the impact of fishing forage fish populations on their predators and recommended that commercial reduction fishing be cut by 50-80% to ensure forage fish predators get enough food. However since then, several papers—including some by the authors of the original—have recognized that the models used in the 2012 research were not suitable for the questions asked, and further studies are needed.

The latest, Hilborn et al. (2017) published earlier this month (open access), shows that environmental variability, left out of the original models, is actually the most important factor affecting forage fish populations. Commercial fishing often has little effect on forage fish populations and their predators. Instead, ocean conditions and nutrient cycles (things humans have no control over) dictate how many forage fish survive each year.

The new paper also suggests that the relationship between forage fish and their predators is complicated by several factors. Forage fish predators often rely on specific, high-density locations where the abundance may be largely unrelated to the total abundance of the population. Basically, instead of predators relying on the total number of forage fish, they rely on forage fish appearing in certain locations, such as near breeding areas. Predators are also not singularly reliant on commercially harvested forage fish to survive—most consume a wide variety of prey. Indeed, Hilborn et al. (2017) found no link between larger forage fish populations and increases in predator populations.

Forage fish provide a wonderful service to humans. They are tasty, nutritious, and their harvest provides food for animals that we enjoy and eat, both above and below the surface. Understanding their ecological role is important to ensure sustainability.

Read the story at CFOOD | Watch a video about the study here

Apr 11 2017

D.B. Pleschner: Study: No correlation between forage fish, predator populations

On April 9-10, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Sacramento to deliberate on anchovy management and decide on 2017 harvest limits for sardine, two prominent west coast forage fish.

Extreme environmental groups like Oceana and Pew have plastered social media with allegations that the anchovy population has crashed, sardines are being overfished and fisheries should be curtailed, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Beyond multiple lines of recent evidence that both sardines and anchovy populations are increasing in the ocean, a new study published this week in the journal Fisheries Research finds that the abundance of these and other forage fish species is driven primarily by environmental cycles with little impact from fishing, and well-managed fisheries have a negligible impact on predators — such as larger fish, sea lions and seabirds.

This finding flies directly in the face of previous assumptions prominent in a 2012 study commissioned by the Lenfest Ocean Program, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, heirs of Sun Oil Company. The Lenfest study concluded that forage fish are twice as valuable when left in the water to be eaten by predators and recommended slashing forage fishery catch rates by 50 to 80 percent.

However, in the new study, a team of seven internationally respected fisheries scientists, led by Prof. Ray Hilborn, Ph.D., of the University of Washington, discovered no correlation between predator populations and forage fish abundance. The new research also found multiple omissions in the methodology of the Lenfest study. For instance, it — and other previous studies — used ecosystem models that ignored the natural variability of forage fish, which often fluctuate greatly in abundance from year-to-year.

Ironically, the Lenfest findings were largely based on a model called EcoSim, developed by Dr. Carl J. Walters, one of the seven co-authors of the new paper. Dr. Walters found that the EcoSim models used in earlier studies had omitted important factors, including natural variability, recruitment limitations and efficient foraging of predators.

The Lenfest study also failed to account for the fact that predators typically eat smaller sized forage fish that are not targeted by fishermen. In light of these omissions, the Hilborn et al study concluded that Lenfest recommendations were overly broad and should not be considered for fishery management. “The Lenfest conclusion … is not based on any fact,” said Dr. Carl Walters, “…it’s based on model predictions…models that we know now are fundamentally flawed. In hindsight, it’s an irresponsible recommendation.”

This isn’t the first-time ecosystem models used in earlier studies have been questioned. One year after the Lenfest study was completed, two of its authors, Dr. Tim Essington and Dr. Éva Plagányi, published a paper in the ICES Journal of Marine Science saying, “We find that the depth and breadth with which predator species are represented are commonly insufficient for evaluating sensitivities of predator populations to forage fish depletion.” The Hilborn et al study reaffirmed this finding, noting “several reasons to concur with the conclusion that the models used in previous analysis were insufficient.”

The authors concluded their study by noting the importance of forage fish as a part of human food supply chains, as well as the low environmental impact of forage fisheries. They also praised the high nutritional value of forage fish, both through direct human consumption and as food in aquaculture. Curtailing forage fisheries, as recommended by Lenfest, would force people to look elsewhere for the healthy protein and micronutrients provided by forage fish — likely at much greater environmental cost.

We all know it’s important to balance the needs of the ecosystem, human nutrition and coastal communities in the management of our fisheries. That’s why the Council should heed these new findings, and base management guidance on the latest, best scientific evidence. The future of California’s historic wetfish industry, the foundation of California’s fishing economy, hangs in the balance.

D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

Original post on:

Apr 9 2017

NATIONAL FISHERMAN: When is menhaden like a mortgage?

What do forage fish and real estate have in common? Location, location, location.

A new study led by University of Washington fishery science Professor Ray Hilborn reveals some surprising relationships between predator success and prey abundance.

The paper, “When does fishing forage species affect their predators?” was published Monday in the journal Fisheries Research in response to the 2012 Lenfest Report, which set the recent standard for forage fish management by asserting that an across-the-board reduction in the commercial harvest of forage fish would result in higher numbers of fish species that prey on them.

“It looked reasonable that if you appropriate half of the production of a prey species by a fishery that you can’t support so much production of predators,” said Carl Walters, professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. “That seemed perfectly reasonable. It was just wrong.”

According to this study, prey species follow the real estate principle of investing in prime locations. When forage fish are abundant, the research shows, their population spreads over a wider area, creating smaller subpockets around a core reproduction zone. When they’re in low abundance, they retract to the core region. Successful predators keep their breeding grounds close to that core region, maintaining access to food even in times of low prey biomass.

Read the full story at National Fisherman

Apr 4 2017

Hilborn-led study: Predators less affected by catch of prey fish than thought

Stocks of predatory fish may be less affected by the catching of their prey species than has previously been thought, according to new research published on April 3.

The study – published in journal Fisheries Research and led by well-known University of Washington professor Ray Hilborn – suggests previous studies on this topic overlooked key factors when recommending lower catches of “forage fish”.

Said forage fish include small pelagic species, such as anchovies, herring and menhaden.

The team of seven fisheries scientists found that predator populations are less dependent on specific forage fish species than assumed in previous studies, most prominently in a 2012 study commissioned by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which is managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force at that time argued that forage fish are twice as valuable when left in the water to be eaten by predators, and recommended slashing forage fish catch rates by up to 80%.

For fisheries management, such a precautionary approach would have a large impact on the productivity of forage fisheries. As groups such as IFFO (the Marine Ingredients Organisation) have noted, these stocks contribute strongly to global food security, as well as local and regional social and economic sustainability.

The new research claims to have found multiple omissions in the methodology of the Lenfest study.

“When you review the actual models that were used [by Lenfest], there are a few key elements on the biology of these animals that were not represented,” said Ricardo Amoroso, one of the study’s co-authors. He added that one of the authors’ approaches was to “look for empirical evidence of what is actually happening in the field.”

Previous studies relied on models which took for granted that there should be a strong link between predators and prey.

Specifically, the Lenfest study and another study using ecosystem models ignored the natural variability of forage fish, which often fluctuate greatly in abundance from year to year, this new study said.

It also failed to account for the fact that predators tend to eat smaller forage fish that are largely untouched by fishermen.


These failings were acknowledged by a co-author of that study, Carl Waters, who is also one of the co-authors of the new paper.

Because of these oversights, the new study concluded that the Lenfest recommendations were overly broad, and that fisheries managers should consider forage species on a case-by-case basis to ensure sound management.

“It is vital that we manage our fisheries to balance the needs of the ecosystem, human nutrition and coastal communities,” said Andrew Mallison, IFFO director general. “These findings give fishery managers guidance based on science, and update some of the inaccurate conclusions of previous reports.”

Two further authors of the Lenfest study – Tim Essington and Éva Plagányi – also went on to publish a paper in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, noting previous analyses used insufficient models.

They found that the distribution of forage fish has a greater impact on predators than simply the raw abundance of forage fish, as well as noting the importance of forage fish as a part of human food supply chains, praising their high nutritional value, both through direct human consumption and as food in aquaculture, as well as the low environmental impact of forage fishing.

“Cutting forage fishing, as recommended by the Lenfest group, would force people to look elsewhere for the healthy protein and micronutrients provided by forage fish – likely at much greater environmental cost,” the authors wrote.

“Forage fish provide some of the lowest environmental cost food in the world – low carbon footprint, no water use,” said Hilborn.

“[There are] lots of reasons that forage fish are a really environmentally friendly form of food.”

You can read the newly-published study in full here.

Only in February 2017 the NGO Bloom Association issued a report — “The Dark Side of Aquaculture” — claiming industrial fisheries reduce edible wild fish into fishmeal, when they are perfectly edible by humans.

Read the original post here:

Mar 10 2015

Action Taken To Protect Fish At Bottom Of Ocean Food Chain


The Council took action to prohibit new directed fisheries on a list of  currently unmanaged, largely unfished forage species this week which brings the following species and species groups into all four of the Council’s FMPs as ecosystem component (EC) species:
• Round herring (Etrumeus teres) and thread herring (Opisthonema libertate and O. medirastre)
• Mesopelagic fishes of the families Myctophidae, Bathylagidae, Paralepididae, and Gonostomatidae
• Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus)
• Pacific saury (Cololabis saira)
• Silversides (family Atherinopsidae)
• Smelts of the family Osmeridae
• Pelagic squids (families: Cranchiidae, Gonatidae, Histioteuthidae, Octopoteuthidae, Ommastrephidae (except Humboldt squid, Dosidicus gigas), Onychoteuthidae, and Thysanoteuthidae)

The above species would be known as “Shared EC Species,” meaning that they are shared between all of the FMPs 

silversidesA new rule prohibits new fisheries on forage fish species including silversides, shown here.
Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Flickr


by Cassandra Profita OPB

West Coast fishery managers adopted a new rule Tuesday that protects many species of forage fish at the bottom of the ocean food chain.

The rule prohibits commercial fishing of  herring, smelt, squid and other small fish that aren’t currently targeted by fishermen. It sets up new, more protective regulations for anyone who might want to start fishing for those species in the future.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted to adopt the rule at a meeting in Vancouver, Washington. The council sets ocean fishing seasons off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

The idea behind the new rule is to preserve so-called forage fish so they’re available for the bigger fish, birds and whales that prey on them. It’s part of a larger push by the council to examine the entire ocean ecosystem when setting fishing seasons.

Environmentalists who have been advocating for the rule for years celebrated the approval.

“If we’re going to have a healthy ocean ecosystem in the long term, we have to protect that forage base,” said Ben Enticknap of the environmental group Oceana. “These are the backbone of a healthy ocean ecosystem.”

Enticknap said many of the forage fish subject to the new rule are already being fished elsewhere in the world. Little fish at the bottom of the food chain are used to make fish meal for aquaculture, and they’re increasingly in demand as food for people as other fish populations decline.

Previous rules only required managers to be notified of a new fishery on non-managed forage fish species. Now, the council will require a more rigorous scientific review to prove that the new fishery won’t harm the ecosystem before it is allowed.

“Really, it’s being precautionary,” said Enticknap. “It’s getting out ahead of a crisis rather than waiting for a stock to collapse and then having to have serious consequences for fisheries after the fact.”

The rule has gained broad support — even from the fishing industry, according to Steve Marx of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Valuable commercial fish such as rockfish, salmon, halibut and tuna all prey on forage fish.

“The fishing industry support has been pretty strong because everybody understands how important these small forage fish are to the fish they like, that they make a living off of,” he said.

Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association, congratulated the council on moving forward with the rule.

“It’s rare to get this sort of consensus support from commercial, environmental and recreational sectors, and I think you have it on this one,” he said.

Before voting, council members discussed the best way to allow existing fisheries to catch some of the forage fish species incidentally – as they’re targeting other fish.

The council directed staff to continue developing the details of the rule so that it doesn’t constrain existing fisheries, but it does discourage fishing boats from targeting forage fish.

Councilors instructed staff to hold fishing boats accountable the forage fish they catch and consider discouraging development of at-sea processing of forage fish species into fish meal.

Read original post:



May 9 2013

On “Forage Fish”, Pew’s Peter Baker Misses the Mark

Saving Seafood

“Forage fish” management in the California Current Ecosystem is the most precautionary in the world. Current ecosystem modeling efforts find that purse seine fisheries for coastal pelagic species harvest less than four percent (or two percent, depending on source) of the planktivorous forage pool.

“According to a paper by Kaplin et al 2012 in Fish and Fisheries. Cumulative impacts of fisheries in the California Current. This paper uses the Atlantis model to look at the effects of the major fisheries (by gear type) on other fisheries and species. The purse-seine fishery has the largest effect on other ecosystem components; almost all of the effects were positive! The purse-seine fishery (for coastal pelagic species) resulted in large increases in the Large planktivores, very little change in the small planktivores (they note that the fishery takes <4% of the small planktovore biomass), increases in salmon, deep-vertical migrators, misc pelagic sharks, large zooplankton, microzooplankton, and nearshore fish.” – Dr. Richard Parrish, retired NMFS fishery biologist in Monterey who has more than 50 years’ knowledge of CPS and the California Current.

The paper A Case for Precautionary Management of Forage Fish, presented by Pew’s Peter Baker at the Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries Conference on May 8, is based on several assumptions about “forage fish” and predator species that are unproven. These unproven assumptions, as well as a lack of peer-review of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force that the paper extensively cites, should raise significant questions and engender in-depth review before its recommendations become standard practice in fisheries management.

The paper’s recommendations are based around the assumption that “forage fish” is a legitimate and useful categorization of species to be used in fisheries management, and that the various “forage species” can be managed under the same broad guidelines. Specifically, the paper recommends implementing restrictions intended to leave forage species biomass at 75 percent of unfished levels. The paper argues that adopting this conservative management strategy will lead to an increase in the amount of forage available and will benefit predator species.

However, these species have a variety of biological differences, and don’t have much in common outside of their common role in the marine food web. These significant differences–including fecundity, spawning periods, migration, predator-prey relationships, and habitat–are much more relevant variables for fisheries management than a shared trophic role.

Read the full story here.

Apr 6 2013

Pacific coast forage fish protection strongest in the world

D.B. Pleschner

Recent stories may have left some people with the wrong impression regarding the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s upcoming decision on April 9 to adopt the Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP).

These stories have implied rampant overfishing of forage species like sardines that the FEP supposedly will address by reducing catch limits on these fish in order to maintain a food source for bigger species like salmon and albacore.

However, this simply isn’t true.

The council authorized development of the FEP to “enhance the Council’s species-specific management programs with more ecosystem science, broader ecosystem considerations and management policies that coordinate Council management across its Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) and the California Current Ecosystem (CCE).”

The FEP’s first initiative proposes to protect unmanaged lower trophic level forage species such as Pacific sandlance and saury, which are currently not fished, by “prohibiting the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by the Council, or the States, until the Council has had an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to any proposed fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

In contrast, anchovy, sardines and market squid, officially known as coastal pelagic species (CPS),

are already well managed under both federal and state fishery management plans, which prescribe precautionary harvest limits.

Consider the visionary management of Pacific sardines, the poster fish for ecosystem-based management. A risk-averse formula is in place that ensures when population numbers go down, the harvest also goes down. Conversely, when more sardines are available, more harvest is allowed, but the maximum cap is set far below the maximum sustainable harvest level.

In 2011, the U.S. West Coast sardine fisheries harvested only 5.11 percent of a very conservative stock estimate, leaving nearly 95 percent of the species for predators and ecosystem needs.

Does that sound like overfishing to you? Of course not, and scientists agree.

A 2012 study by a panel of 13 scientists from around the world known as the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force concluded that while overfishing of forage species is problematic on a global scale, the West Coast is not being overfished.

Indeed they noted that the Pacific Coast is, “ahead of other parts of the world in how it manages some forage fish.” The region has “stricter monitoring and more conservative limits that could serve as a buffer against future crashes.”

Knowledgeable people know that this is no accident. Fishing families have historically worked with regulators to protect our wetfish fisheries.

In fact, more than a decade ago, the Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a management strategy for CPS harvested in California and on the West Coast, maintaining at least 75 percent of the fish in the ocean to ensure a resilient core biomass. The sardine protection rate is even higher.

California also implemented a network of no-take marine reserves throughout our state’s waters. Reserves established at specific bird rookery and marine mammal haul-out sites — for example near the Farallon Islands, Año Nuevo, and Southern California’s Channel Islands — were enacted to protect forage fish. More than 30 percent of traditional squid harvest grounds are now closed in reserve.

Hopefully these facts will prevail and dispel the hype. California has been recognized by internationally respected scientists as having one of the lowest fishery harvest rates in the world. It’s one of only a few areas deemed “sustainable.” (Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 2009).

Jul 13 2012

California Still Leaving Plenty of Fish in the Sea



 Letters to the Editor

Re “Fisherman agree: Big fish need little fish” (Viewpoints, June 22):

The article omitted key facts the public should understand about California’s fisheries. Appealing to the Pacific Fishery Management Council to “forestall the harvest of forage species that aren’t currently being fished,” the authors cited a Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force study finding that worldwide, forage fish are mostly ground into meal to feed livestock and farmed fish. This is untrue in California. They didn’t point out that according to the same report, we already leave plenty of forage fish in the sea. West Coast forage fisheries harvest only 2 percent of the total forage pool, leaving 98 percent in the ocean. The most important forage species on the West Coast are already well managed. The PFMC recently approved deliberative action, allowing more time for scientific analysis and the development of the most practical, effective management tools. This is a win for all, providing the most cost-effective and timely response to concerns that new fisheries might over-exploit forage species.


— Diane Pleschner-Steele, executive director, California Wetfish Producers Association

Read more via the Sacramento Bee.