While forage fish are crucial to the health of marine ecosystems, these small schooling fish are not very well understood.  More and more, agencies and marine conservation organizations are attempting to protect forage fish so that they can, in turn, protect the marine ecosystem that depend upon them.

Point Blue Conservation Science and partners are dedicated to guiding ecosystem-based ocean management that helps forage fish and all of the wildlife linked to them thrive.  We worked together with our partners to develop reports that identify challenges to implementing ecosystem-based management and offer recommendations on how to address those challenges. 

2014 Report: Towards Ecosystem Based-Fishery Management in the California Current System

2009 Report: Ecosystem-based Management of West Coast Forage Species

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Small Fish, Big Impact

The California Current is one of the most productive stretches of ocean on earth and is a critical feeding ground for commercially valuable fish (salmon, rockfish and tuna), seabirds (Brandt’s cormorants, brown pelicans and common murres) and marine mammals (California sea lion, northern fur seal and humpback whales). Many of these animals migrate across the Pacific to the California Current to feed on forage fish, schools of small fish including anchovies, herring, sardine, juvenile rockfish as well as squid.  Forage fish are collectively the largest fishery on the West Coast and are a critical food source for marine wildlife.

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Fishing Industry Importance

Michael L. Baird, flickr.bairdphotos.comForage species inhabiting the California Current ecosystem are harvested for recreational and commercial purposes in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada.   Forage finfish species, such as anchovy, sardine, herring, sandlance and mackerel, are used to make fishmeal and fish oil, are canned or frozen for human consumption, and are used as live and dead bait.  Pacific whiting, a groundfish species, is forage early in its life cycle and is a valuable fishery product used for human consumption.  Market squid are consumed by people and used as bait.  Together, these species comprise an important part of the west coast’s fishing industry.

The growing human population and the expansion of tuna, salmon, and other finfish aquaculture industries globally are likely to increase demand for forage species.  In fact, global demand for forage species may already be surpassing available supplies.  Fishmeal and fish oil that is used to produce animal and aquaculture feeds and nutritional supplements may be increasing competition for forage species that would otherwise be consumed directly by humans.  This competition may raise prices, potentially making what is currently a low-cost, nutritious protein source less affordable.  Rising demand also creates pressure to increase harvest levels, potentially impacting marine wildlife and the integrity of the food web.  Efforts by the U.S. and California state governments to develop laws and regulations to permit marine aquaculture in their respective waters may further accelerate demand for forage species products.  

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Ecosystem Approach

ACCESS Partnership photoForage species management in the U.S. is largely based on a single-species approach that does not adequately account for ecological variables, such as predator needs and competition.  Regional harvest guidelines don’t include safeguards to protect against localized depletion that can negatively impact predators at critical life stages.  In addition, it is difficult to accurately estimate and predict forage species population numbers (or biomass) as they fluctuate significantly with changes in the physical ocean environment.  This challenge is likely to grow if greater variability in ocean conditions occurs in the future as a result of climate change, as many have predicted.     

To better protect the integrity of marine ecosystems, ensure adequate availability of food resources for wildlife, and appropriately respond to rising demand for forage species products, federal and state management policies and practices need to incorporate innovative scientific methods and an ecosystem-based approach.  However, the scientific and management issues surrounding ecosystem-based forage species management are complex.  Successful improvements will require active collaboration among scientists and community leaders with forage species and ecosystem expertise, knowledge of state and federal management policies, and an understanding of harvest practices and fishery economics.

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Resources for Partners

2013 workshop materials are password protected.  Please email Jaime Jahncke for the user name and password to access notes, contacts and presentations from forage fish partner workshops at this link.

2008 Meeting Materials

Notes from May, 2008 conference call

Steering Committee Meeting Agenda for July, 2008

Steering Committee Meeting Agenda for September, 2008

Final Reports

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