“Crazy underwater baitball feeding frenzy” – the fun of forage fish

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Forage fish – small to medium-sized species that include anchovies, herring, menhaden, and sardines – are essential to the ocean web:
They can be beautiful-

(Richard A. King Photography)

They provide nourishment to larger fish …

Wikimedia photo

…which we love to catch and eat-

Forage fish are needed to grow these big fish.

But who knew they could provide such wacky fun for onlookers of nature’s drama?

Unfortunately this class of fish is in danger of being over-fished, and your help is needed.


Fisheries managers need to pay more careful attention to the special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators, according to the April 2012 report Little Fish, Big Impact. The report is from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, a group of 13 preeminent scientists formed to provide practical advice on sustainable management.
Brief summary: Forage fish are small to medium-sized species that include anchovies, herring, menhaden, and sardines. Direct catch of forage fish makes up more than one-third of the world’s  marine fish catch and has contributed to the collapse of some forage fish populations. In the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date, the Task Force found that conventional management can be risky for forage fish because it does not adequately account for their wide population swings and high catchability. It also fails to capture the critical role of forage fish as food for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially important fish such as tuna, salmon, and cod.
The report recommends cutting catch rates in half in many ecosystems and doubling the minimum biomass of forage fish that must be left in the water, compared to conventional  management targets. Even more stringent measures are advised when important biological information is missing. (Little Fish, Big Impact).

Ask NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to encourage fishery managers to protect the little fish that feed the bigger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals that nourish and enrich all of us.

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