Little fish took center stage at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Portland, Oregon on April 9th, when the Council voted to take fisheries management in a new direction – one that takes into account the overall health of the California Current ecosystem, starting with protection of the small bait fish that are fed upon by numerous predators higher up in the food chain like salmon, sharks, seabirds and whales.
The Council adopted a Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the California Current to provide guidance for future fishery management decisions. Traditional fishery plans, also called single-species plans, manage species as if they are isolated from one another. Ecosystem-based fishery management recognizes relationships between species and establishes strategies designed to safeguard these relationships. Forage fish, schooling masses of sardine, mackerel, and anchovy, are the glue that holds the ecosystem puzzle together because they interact with so many predators that depend on them for food.
“To maintain a healthy west coast ecosystem, the Council needs to monitor, measure, and maintain the health of the overall west coast forage base,” said Ken Hinman, president of Wild Oceans, an environmental organization founded by anglers. “Conserving an abundant reserve of forage fish, and with it the predator fish and associated commercial and recreational fisheries that depend on them, is sound environmental and economic policy. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
The Council will also voted on a list of initiatives that will serve to implement the policies contained within the ecosystem plan, including the development of ecosystem status indicators, such as overall abundance of forage fish, and restrictions on any new fisheries for unmanaged forage species until we better understand the impacts on the marine food web.
“We are not using an ecosystem approach unless we are considering the entire forage base and maintaining adequate forage for dependent predators,” said Pam Lyons Gromen, Wild Oceans executive director. “The plan provides a context for making smarter management decisions.”
Recent studies recommend leaving upwards of 75 percent of forage biomass in the ocean to fuel predator demands.
Hinman often quotes an old Chinese saying, “Nature is not composed of things, but of relations.” Following this philosophy, Wild Oceans believes that conserving the ocean’s prey base will produce lasting benefits for wild oceans and the future of fishing.