Small 'forage fish' are a crucial source for larger animals in the ocean ecosystem. Without little fish, there can be no big fish. Pacific coast fishing leaders should thus adopt safeguards to prohibit fishing of saury until it can be shown that this would not adversely impact the ecosystem.
When people think of a healthy ocean, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a large iconic animal, perhaps a humpback whale leaping majestically out of the water or a pelican swooping low across the ocean surface. In my case, I’m hooked by the thrill of a big salmon as it pulls the line off my reel.
All of these animals dine on vast schools of tightly packed prey fish, commonly referred to as forage fish. Scientists and fishermen are becoming increasingly aware of their singular importance as the fuel that drives productive coastal ecosystems. At the same time, global demand is growing to catch forage fish for secondary purposes such as chicken feed, fertilizer, and bait for industrial longline fishing overseas.
But catching too many of these forage fish can severely disrupt the ocean life that they sustain. A lack of forage fish can have serious repercussions – especially for the fishing industry. Without little fish, there can be no big fish.
That’s why many fishing and conservation organizations – including The Pew Charitable Trusts – are rightly advocating for new measures to safeguard forage fish. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is responsible for managing marine fish on the West Coast, will have the opportunity to adopt some of these safeguards as it meets in Garden Grove, Calif., this week.