This blog post appears as part of our “Focus on Forage Fish” series, which highlights the importance of managing prey species for ocean ecosystems.
In September 2015, I attended the Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sacramento to celebrate the Council’s completion of their first ecosystem-based amendment, three years in the making, which will protect unmanaged and unfished forage fish from directed commercial fishing. The Council approved regulations drafted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), that identify a suite of unmanaged forage fish as ecosystem component species in each of the Council’s four fishery management plans (FMPs). Through this action, the Council recognized the vital ecological role that forage species serve as food for predatory fish, birds and mammals within the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem.
The goal of this action is to limit the harvest of unmanaged forage fish to current levels. The Council’s action came just in time. The Pacific sardine stock has declined dramatically in recent years, triggering a fishery closure, and the commercial fishery is shifting effort to other forage fish, like anchovy and squid, to make up the difference. This action prevents commercial boats from targeting unfished and unmanaged species, such as round herring, Pacific saury and pelagic squids, unless and until we understand the consequence of exploitation.
I testified for Wild Oceans at the meeting, reminding the Council that this action will help ensure a healthy forage base even as the California Current experiences unprecedented changes such as warming, increased storm activity and ocean acidification. The Council agreed, endorsing the draft regulations and completing their role in this precautionary action to protect forage resources. Now it’s up to NMFS to publish and implement final regulations.
Also published at WildOceans.org.