The Blog Aquatic » forage fish News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Fish We Need to Feed 9 Billion People Wed, 22 May 2013 15:50:26 +0000 Andreas Merkl

Salmon in the Ketchikan, Alaska harbor credit — Chris Howerton

The following is an excerpt from a post that first appeared on National Geographic’s Ocean Views:

Smart fisheries management is a great place to start a conversation about putting the ocean at the center of the world’s biggest challenges.  This is because the most profitable type of fishing is sustainable fishing – better management helps fishermen and the ocean at the same time.

Sustainable fishing means keeping enough fish in the water to reproduce and ensure a bountiful catch in the future. It’s a balancing act, but sustainable fisheries are in everyone’s best interest – from fishermen to distributors to gear manufacturers to retailers to consumers. If you’re a fisherman and you want to pass on your traditions to the next generation, or you want to be able to make good money 10 years from now, the most profitable way to fish is sustainably.

Unfortunately, overfishing due to poor fisheries management remains a global problem that threatens ecosystem health and human survival. For example, without enough forage fish—small fish like anchovies, sardines, and squid—the larger predators, like tuna, that feed on them will start to disappear as well.

That matters because we are facing a future with 9 billion people on the planet, and with that future comes huge concerns for food security.

Read the full post at National Geographic

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Moving Toward the Future of Fisheries Management Fri, 10 May 2013 15:30:00 +0000 Greg Helms

Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) hunting Pacific Sardines (Sardinops sagax) Pacific / California / USA (Monterey Bay Aquarium)

In Ocean Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent report “The Law That’s Saving American Fisheries”, we make three key recommendations about how to improve the already vital law that governs our nation’s fisheries:

  • Minimize the habitat damage and bycatch of indiscriminate fishing.
  • Ensure that adequate forage fish are in the water to feed the larger ecosystem
  • Promote ecosystem-based fisheries management

That’s why we were so excited when the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (Council) recently reached a long-awaited milestone in transitioning toward an ecosystem-based approach to managing seafood harvest.  The Council’s adoption of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) establishes not only a comprehensive foundation for considering the condition of the California Current Ecosystem  in harvest planning and management, but sets a leading example for modernizing fisheries management across the globe.

How is ecosystem-based management different?  Instead of focusing on an individual ocean issues or species, the strategy shifts to the entire ecosystems in which such species or concerns exist.  So decision-makers then consider the habitats that ocean wildlife require at each stage of life, their roles as predator and prey, the natural variations in populations in different places and at different times, and of course the critical role played by humans—climate change, ocean acidification, demands for food and recreation, etc.

Until now, managing the vast and life-giving harvest of seafood from the world’s oceans has followed a species-specific approach. This has contributed to well-known and tragic consequences, such as collapsed fisheries and the communities that depended on them.

The Fisheries Ecosystem Plan adopted last month gives the Pacific Fisheries Council a dramatically more comprehensive and useful suite of information to consider when making decisions on fisheries policy.  The plan rests on a description of Pacific ecosystem dynamics that affect, and are affected by, Council harvest policy. It also establishes a set of initiatives to gather and assess additional ecosystem data for to use in future management decisions.  Critically, they can guide Council policy within individual fishery Management Plans and also inform effects and tradeoffs between them.  Initiative #1 will develop data and tools for use in managing the food base for Pacific fisheries – called “forage fish”, an essential ecosystem component, and assist in prohibiting fishing for currently unmanaged species of forage fish.  The Council will discuss this critical preventative measure in June.

Though the Fisheries Ecosystem Plan is informational for now, meaning it holds only advisory power, it is a critical step in establishing a foundation for truly ecosystem-based management.  The real effect of the plan will flow from its ecosystem initiatives, and action on the Forage Initiative in June will reveal how much early stock the Council is putting into its important new ecosystem plan.

These first steps taken in the Pacific region will hopefully serve as early indicators for the rest of the country as we work to promote and improve fisheries management.  Read more about the Law That’s Saving American Fisheries here.

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Leadership in a Time of National Division Thu, 08 Nov 2012 00:34:51 +0000 George Leonard

Credit: George H. Leonard

After a year-long campaign, the voters have spoken and President Obama will lead the country for another four years. But while the Electoral College was decisive, the popular vote was essentially split; as a group, the American people remain deeply divided over many critical issues facing our nation – from health care to national defense.

This week, while national attention has been focused on politics at the highest level, fishery managers along the west coast quietly demonstrated unity and leadership by voting to advance important protections for forage fish – the small and often forgotten fish that form the base of the ocean food web.

Why is this such a big deal? Because as in politics, fisheries management is often divisive and making progress requires leadership. When our officials take important steps to better protect the ocean we should give credit where credit is due.

Today, the California Fish and Game Commission and yesterday, members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, signaled commitments to policies that will help ensure enough forage fish remain in the ocean for the many predators, like whales, dolphins and seabirds, which are dependent upon them. When fully implemented through new regulations, these protections in the Pacific could be a model for the nation and an important first step in moving toward comprehensive ecosystem-based fishery management. That has my community – the conservation community- celebrating.

But it’s not just conservationists applauding the forward thinking leadership on forage fish. This week’s pair of votes shows that a genuine consensus has emerged that “little fish” have tremendous value to people as well as bigger fish, supporting fisheries and ocean related jobs that provide over $20 billion worth of economic activity throughout the region. That is why groups voicing support for forage fish protections included seafood businesses, tourism operators like whale watching boats, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, as well as conservation organizations up and down the coast.

In fact, California’s new policy was crafted by fishing and conservation interests (including Ocean Conservancy) working collaboratively, based on their shared interest in ensuring a healthy and productive ocean for all. But don’t get me wrong; there is more work to be done, including finalizing these commitments and getting them implemented in the water.

Resolving the differences that will likely emerge during these processes won’t be easy.  But like crossing the political aisle, when leaders put aside differences and seek common ground, progress can be made. In the long run, a healthy ocean depends on having more examples of the kind of leadership displayed by fishery managers this week on forage fish.

Our nation’s elected officials could learn a thing or two from those on the west coast who care about forage fish. There are benefits to working together.

Indeed, leadership matters.

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Forage Fish: The Tiny Fish That Support Our Entire Ocean Tue, 23 Oct 2012 22:50:50 +0000 Guest Blogger California’s Fish & Game Commission is considering making big changes to better protect some of the ocean’s smallest fish.

If you live in California, you can help us protect these vitally important fish. For the sake of our ocean, we must ensure these improvements get passed.

Known as “forage fish,” small schooling fish like sardines, anchovies and herring — play a crucial role in the ocean food web and in our overall economic well being.

Need proof? Look toward the seabirds, who suffer a drop in birth rates when forage fish populations drop too low. Look toward marine mammals like humpback whales, which weigh around 40 tons yet rely almost completely on forage fish to survive. Or ask the fishermen—commercial and recreational fishermen agree that big fish need little fish. The fish we like to catch and eat, like salmon, tuna and rockfish, all feed on forage fish.

Current regulations typically don’t recognize the value of forage species as a crucial food source for top predators—and we need all our Californian supporters to help us change that.

The California Fish and Game Commission meets on Nov. 7 to consider adopting a formal state policy recognizing the importance of forage fish. This policy was crafted collaboratively by conservation groups and the fishing industry, and is a significant step toward helping our ocean.

If you live in California, please take action and help ensure the Commission adopts this important policy.

Thank you for your continued support and for helping to make this historic step for our ocean possible.

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Fish and chips: wild, farmed or hybrid? Mon, 13 Aug 2012 15:04:37 +0000 George Leonard

Do you know where the fish in your fish and chips came from? Credit: David Ascher

Next time you go to your local fish market, ask them for a hybrid fillet. My guess is they will stare at you with a confused look on their face or direct you to the local Toyota dealership. Most consumers and seafood retailers typically think of seafood as either farmed or wild. But if a new proposal on seafood labeling gains traction, you may soon see the term “hybrid” American lobster alongside wild Pacific Halibut and farmed Atlantic salmon.

Fishing is different than farming. Fishermen ply the seas and interact with the fish only once, when they capture it. Fish farmers, by contrast, tend their crop, generally from egg to juvenile fish to harvest as adults. Fishing is thus analogous to hunting, while aquaculture is more akin to farming.  Fishermen also tend to think of themselves as fundamentally different from fish farmers and there can be animosity among the two groups because their products compete in the marketplace. But deep down, most seafood experts have long known that this simple distinction isn’t really based on reality.

Now a new science paper from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis published in the journal Marine Policy maps out a suite of species that are not clearly either wild or farmed – they are a hybrid of both. Hybrids are wild fisheries that use aquaculture techniques or farmed fish that use certain fisheries techniques. For example, the iconic wild salmon from Alaska actually relies heavily on hatcheries (a form of aquaculture) to increase the wild fish’ natural reproduction. The Gulf of Maine has essentially become a large lobster farm, where baited traps feed juvenile lobster until they are large enough to be caught by lobstermen. Bluefin tuna, a species in precipitous decline in the wild, is now “ranched” in the Mediterranean by stocking aquaculture cages with juvenile fish and fattening them until they are ready for market. Likewise, eel (the popular unagi at your local sushi restaurant) is produced from a hybrid system, capturing juveniles from the wild and then farming them to the perfect size for sushi rolls.

While this distinction may seem academic, it makes a difference. If we are to better manage fishing and farming and develop policies to promote ways to reduce environmental impacts, we need a more accurate way of tracking and categorizing seafood.  Those forms of aquaculture that rely on wild fish for feed inputs or wild juveniles to stock the farm, actually put additional pressure on the ocean.  If large quantities of bait are used in wild fisheries or ecosystems are altered by fishing activities, we may overestimate how many fish the oceans can actually produce.

Rethinking how we categorize seafood would help scientists, fishery managers and seafood businesses better understand the impacts of seafood production. Doing could also be an important part of ensuring fish for the future.


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The Value of Little Fish Fri, 29 Jun 2012 16:08:46 +0000 George Leonard

George Leonard finds an ocean ecosystem in downtown Santa Cruz.

Standing on the sidewalk in downtown Santa Cruz, I gaze upon a fish. Actually several fish.  An entire ocean ecosystem really.  Captured artistically in bronze.  The dramatic sculpture depicts a spiral of sharks, tuna, salmon, and marine mammals, connected to and supported by a swirling mass of smaller fish – sardines or maybe anchovies. Commonly known as ‘bait fish’ or ‘forage fish’, these small fish are the base of the food chain, the vital foundation that supports all the larger fish in the ocean.  Scientists warn that they need better protection around the globe.

This week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council took a bold and important step towards protecting forage fish and in turn the ocean ecosystem itself.  Charged with setting catch limits, seasons and gear restrictions designed to ensure the long-term catch of a dizzying array of fisheries, this week’s action was somewhat unusual.  Instead of deciding how – and how many – fish should be caught, the Pacific Council basically decided that some fish shouldn’t be caught at all. At least not yet.

The Pacific Council declared, by unanimous vote, to “recognize the importance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem off our coast, and to provide adequate protection for forage fish.”  They have essentially decided to “freeze the menu” of existing forage fisheries until additional science demonstrates that more fishing won’t harm the broader ecosystem.  The Pacific Council should be commended by fishermen and conservationists alike for taking this proactive step.

Why are these little fish such a big deal? As two leading California fishermen put it in a recent joint opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee, “big fish need little fish”.  We can’t have large fish on our plate if we don’t have enough small fish in the ocean to nourish them.  But forage fish also benefit whales, dolphins, and seabirds and our multi-billion dollar coastal tourism economy.

The Pacific Council’s decision is especially important given that our ocean is changing.  It is getting demonstrably warmer and more acidic in the face of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  These changes may impact many microscopic, shelled animals that are themselves prey for forage fish.  While we can’t yet predict the precise nature of the changes to come, we know they are coming and that they put the ocean at risk.  Preparing for, and responding to, the many changes that are already underway requires instituting a truly ecosystem-based approach to fishery management – beginning with forage fish.

The Pacific Council’s decision to prevent the development of new forage fish fisheries is a good first step to help ensure our oceans have the resilience to adapt to the changes we know are coming.  By doing so, we can ensure that in the future the sidewalk in Santa Cruz won’t be the only place you can gaze upon a vibrant ocean food web.

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