Posts Tagged SCeMFiS

Nov 17 2021

Ahead of Magnuson-Stevens Act Hearing, Studies Question Need for Additional Forage Fish Restrictions

November 16, 2021 — Editor’s note: The following was released ahead of today’s House subcommittee hearing on the Forage Fish Conservation Act. Watch the full hearing here.


Today, the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water Oceans and Wildlife will hold a hearing on H.R. 5770, the Forage Fish Conservation Act, which would impose new rules on how fisheries managers regulate certain small, schooling, short-lived, pelagic fish and invertebrates that serve as food sources for larger predator species. Two recent studies have raised questions about the need for additional restrictions, and point to existing provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) that are already ensuring the sustainability of “forage fish” and the species that depend on them.

In addition to the Forage Fish Conservation Act, the subcommittee will consider two bills that would reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA).  H.R. 4690 is the Democratic Majority’s re-authorization of MSA, sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Jared Huffman (D-California) and H.R. 59, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

Proponents of the Forage Fish Act point to the need to keep forage fish populations at extra-precautionary levels, above existing overfishing limits, so that they can better provide for the needs of predator species. But a study released this summer in the journal Conservation Biology, and funded by the Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS), found that, for many predator species, managing forage species at these levels are unlikely to bring additional conservation or environmental benefits. This is especially true in already well-managed and well-monitored fisheries, such as those in the U.S. managed under the existing Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Management of forage fish populations should be based on data that are specific to that forage fish, and to their predators,” said Dr. Olaf Jensen of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the study’s authors. “When there aren’t sufficient data to conduct a population-specific analysis, it’s reasonable to manage forage fish populations for maximum sustainable yield, as we would other fish populations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.”

Dr. Jensen and his co-author Dr. Chris Free of the University of California Santa Barbara discuss the results of the paper at greater length in a video released earlier this year. They are joined by scientists Dr. Doug Butterworthof the University of Cape Town, and Dr. Éva Plagányi of CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, who offer their independent assessment of the study and their own conclusions on its findings.

To reach these conclusions, the study examined decades worth of abundance data for 45 different predator species and their prey, and found that only 13 percent of them showed any positive impact from having additional, higher levels of forage. Instead, it found that other environmental factors have a far greater influence.

The results of the study reinforce the conclusions of an earlier 2017 study published in Fisheries Research, which found that the fishing of forage fish species had a much smaller impact than previous studies had indicated, and that forage fish were best managed on a case-by-case basis, rather than on broad rules applied across species.

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