Look after the little fishies too

A recent report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force called for the need for fisheries managers to pay more careful attention to the “special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators”. The Little Fish, Big Impact report published in April 2012 is by a group of 13 preeminent scientists formed to provide practical advice on sustainable management.

The focus on conservation of fish numbers usually is on the larger varieties. This report highlights the need for attention to be given to small to medium-sized fish species that include sardines, anchovies, herring and menhaden. This direct catch of forage fish makes up more than a third of the world’s marine fish catch and has been a contributory factor in the collapse of some forage fish populations. This study provides the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date, the Task Force found that conventional management does not always help forage fish because it does not adequately account for their wide population swings and high catchability. The critical role of forage fish as food for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially important fish such as salmon, tuna and cod.

In order to redress the balance the report recommends cutting catch rates in half in many ecosystems and doubling the minimum biomass of forage fish that must be left in the water, compared to conventional management targets. And further, even more stringent measures are advised when important biological information is missing. A summary of the report is available from the Scott Partnership working on behalf of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force.