Protect the Prey Base

Protecting prey fish, the predator fish and fisheries that depend on them, as well as the survival of marine mammals and seabirds, is sound environmental and economic policy. It’s a win for all of us, for wild oceans and the future of fishing.

Preserving the ocean’s forage base is not only the first step in advancing an ecosystems approach to managing fisheries, it is an effort to prevent irreversible damage to marine ecosystems, while at the same time moving away, once and for all, from ecologically-harmful policies that manage each species to maximize yields to fisheries, without regard for the impact on other species in the food web or the community as a whole.

For decades now, we’ve been “fishing down the food web”, that is, overfishing populations of high-value ocean predators, such as cod and tuna, then shifting fishing pressure to lower trophic level species, most notably small schooling prey species like herring, mackerel, menhaden and squid. As a result, today’s fishery managers are struggling to control two trains going in opposite directions on different tracks.

As we work to restore a long list of predatory fish to healthy levels, the demand for prey naturally increases. But the available supply of food – the overall forage base available to them – is dwindling. High-volume fisheries, whose principal goals are netting sizeable yields for industrial uses, indiscriminately target a wide range of forage fish – Atlantic menhaden, Pacific sardine, squid, mackerel, sea herring – taking imperiled species such as river herring and shad in the process.

Generally speaking, the ocean’s forage base is at an historic low, and pressures on it are expected to rise in the future. Wild fisheries long ago surpassed their ability to feed the world. Ironically, the explosive growth of open ocean aquaculture as an alternative threatens to exacerbate the problem by increasing demand for the use of wild forage fish as feed.

Wild Oceans is seeking to fundamentally change the way we conserve and manage fisheries for important prey species. Our activities over the last decade or more have made conserving the ocean’s prey base a national environmental priority, a sea change that will produce lasting benefits for wild oceans and the future of fishing for so many species we love and care about, from striped marlin to striped bass and everything in between.  To make this sea change, we are working to, among other things, monitor the health of the overall ocean forage base, conserve those prey species that we fish for according to precautionary standards (see The Berkeley Criterion), and prevent new fisheries for unmanaged species before we fully understand the impacts of fishing on the broader ecosystem.

Wild Oceans is also a proud partner in the Florida Forage Fish Coalition.  Coalition partners play an important role in supporting, promoting and communicating forage fish research to managers, stakeholders and the general public.  Funds raised through the Florida Forage Fish Research Program provide fellowships to graduate students at Florida universities who collaborate with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) to advance our understanding of forage fish. The program produces high-quality research on the value of forage fish to predators and marine habitats, builds collaborative partnerships between academia and FWRI, and fosters the next generation of fisheries scientists.

Latest News

Commission Seeks Input on Atlantic Menhaden Allocation

The public comment period has closed.  The ASMFC Atlantic Menhaden Management Board is scheduled to meet on November 9 to select final options and consider final approval of Addendum 1.  Thank you for your support! Voice Your Support for Options that Best Conserve Menhaden The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)  is seeking public input...

Ocean View: Building on MSA for a Resilient Fisheries Future

by Rob Kramer, Wild Oceans President Few organizations involved in marine fisheries management in the United States can say that they have been there from the beginning. But that is indeed the case with Wild Oceans. Wild Oceans was founded in 1973 in response to the drafting of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of...

We’ve Moved the Line for Menhaden

08/08/2020 On August 5th, Atlantic menhaden management reached a critical milestone.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Atlantic Menhaden Management Board voted unanimously to adopt ecological reference points (ERPs) that will be used to set annual catch levels for the Atlantic coast.  With so many predators – from bluefish and striped bass to ospreys...

The Vote is On for Atlantic Menhaden ERPs – Weigh In!

Update! 08/05/2020 Ecological Reference Points for Atlantic Menhaden, reference points that account for menhaden’s role as a forage fish, have just been unanimously adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. This is a big win for menhaden predators, one that would not have been possible without the work of many dedicated organizations and individuals….

Kick ’em while they’re down

Continued Fishing During Decline Results in Deeper Sardine Collapse by Theresa Labriola April 15, 2020 Pacific sardine has undergone large population fluctuations for centuries and there is consensus that environmental conditions are the main factor driving the changes. However, maintaining continuous high volume fishing on the northern subpopulation of Pacific sardine when stock productivity is in rapid…

Commerce Secretary Upholds Chesapeake Bay Menhaden Cap

by Pam Lyons Gromen, Wild Oceans Executive Director Virginia's Menhaden Fishery to Shut Down in June 2020 if it Doesn't Take Action to Comply with the Bay Cap December 20, 2019 The U.S. Department of Commerce is standing by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) decision to find the Commonwealth of Virginia out of...

Tell Secretary Ross to Uphold the Menhaden Bay Cap

Thank you for your interest in conserving menhaden! Our petition is now on its way to Secretary Ross. We anticipate that the Secretary will make a decision by December 17th.

Help Herring Over the Final Hurdle

Let NMFS Know that You Support Measures to Protect Atlantic Herring’s Role as Forage DEADLINE: October 21 Last fall, the New England Fishery Management Council adopted groundbreaking measures to conserve Atlantic herring and safeguard its role as prey.  Humpback whales, porpoises, seals, puffins, terns, tuna, striped bass, cod, pollock and haddock are just a few…

Ocean View

Is the menhaden fishery certifiably “sustainable”?  Not yet it isn’t.

3. Meeting Resistance

In the first two parts of this series I described how the 2010 Atlantic menhaden stock assessment was scrapped after it triggered the first-ever catch restrictions on the menhaden fishery and replaced with one that allowed catches to increase.  Now we begin to look at why. In a paper presented to the American Fisheries Society...