As the oceans become depleted of large fish, commercial fisheries are increasingly turning to the harvest of the small forage fish to fill their coffers. Unfortunately, what is motivating them in this trend is not the goal of filling dinner plates, but rather looking for ways to keep their own bank accounts full. The younger generation understands that their future depends upon what we do today.
While there is a strong food market for the forage fish, a higher proportion of the catch is turned into pet food and fertilizer:
A thriving marine ecosystem relies on plenty of forage fish. These small schooling fish are a crucial link in ocean food webs because they eat tiny plants and animals, called plankton, and are preyed upon by animals such as penguins, whales, seals, puffins, and dolphins. They are primary food sources for many commercially and recreationally valuable fish found around North America, such as salmon, tuna, striped bass, and cod. The task force estimated that, globally, forage fish are twice as valuable in the water as in a net—contributing US$11.3 billion by serving as food for other commercially important fish. This is more than double the US$5.6 billion they generate as direct catch.
These species play a growing role in the everyday lives of industrialized nations. Their demand in recent decades has greatly increased for use as fish meal and fish oil to feed farmed fish, pigs, and chickens that people consume on a regular basis. Fish oil is also used in nutritional supplements for humans. (Ocean Conservation Science)
Left unchecked and unseen out in the ocean reaches, industrial fisheries have the potential to devastate the oceans, but fortunately we have organizations such as the Pew Environment Group – an endowed organization that works closely with fisheries and government agencies to protect these critical resources. They are concerned about the status of the forage fish populations, and locally are urging the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) to protect the food web that supports existing fisheries, and to “transition from a single-species approach to one that is ecosystem-based”.
Pew Environment Group has prepared the following letter, which you can copy and mail, email or fax…or write your own opinion. The Commission’s next meeting is November 2-7, but the deadline for getting letters in their briefing book is October 23rd. If at all possible, a letter to the Commission prior to the 23rd of October would be great.
Pacific Fishery Management Council
7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101
Portland, Oregon 97220-1384
Toll Free: 1-866-806-7204
Dear Chairman Wolford and Council Members,
We appreciate the Council’s decision in June recognizing forage fish as the cornerstone of a productive marine ecosystem along the Pacific coast. Forage fish are the lifeblood of a healthy ocean. We ask that you keep on track to fulfill your commitment to prohibit new fisheries targeting forage species that aren’t yet being fished, starting with timely adoption of a strong Fishery Ecosystem Plan.
Our coastal ecosystem is under increasing pressure. The Pacific marine environment is affected by large-scale changes in climate, coastal habitat degradation, invasive species, and rising demand to feed a growing world. A resilient ecosystem depends first and foremost on a balanced food web, which is why conservation of prey fish is widely recognized as a pillar of ecosystem-based fishery management.
It’s important that the Council adopt a plan that’s actually useful in improving fishery management, rather than a weighty document that sits on a shelf. A meaningful Fishery Ecosystem Plan should include an index measuring forage abundance along the West Coast. Additionally, it should help the Council maximize the benefits we derive from the ocean by weighing the tradeoffs between large-scale fisheries targeting prey fish versus leaving them in the water to feed ocean wildlife and high-value predators like salmon, tuna and halibut.
The Council’s top priority should be to ensure the stability of the marine ecosystem and existing fisheries here on the Pacific coast. Adequate conservation of forage fish may be the single most important action the council can take to protect the Pacific marine ecosystem – and the fishermen and coastal communities that depend on it.