There’s some good news for fish on both coasts.
On the west coast, the first-ever Fishery Ecosystem Plan has been unanimously approved, which will protect not only individual fish species, but the forage species they depend on for food off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.
Under development since 2009, this is a fundamental shift in the way fisheries are managed and an important milestone in US efforts to move ecosystem-based management from theory into practice, says Pew Environmental Group.
"We’ve always managed our oceans on a species-by-species piecemeal approach. By developing an ecosystem plan, we begin to look at how everything is connected in the ocean," says Paul Shively of Pew.
The first initiative bans commercial and sport fishing of forage fish species until its impact on the ocean’s food web is analyzed. Sardines, herring and anchovies, for example, are critical food sources for seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish, including recreationally and commercially important species such as salmon, tuna, and lingcod.
Decisions on whether a species can be pursued at all or fishing methods and quotas will be based on its effects on overall habitat.
"When it comes to predicting the number of adult salmon annually returning to the Columbia River basin, scientists consistently stress one governing factor: the amount of food available for these fish in the ocean," says Shively.
Unfortunately, Alaska rejected give herring forage fish status and can be harvested just like any other commercial fish.
All stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest, including the seafood industry, birding community, scientists, and commercial fishermen approve of the plan.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of eight regional fishery management councils established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. The goal is to move to ecosystem based fishing nationwide.
Another ecosystem-wide approach is the creation of marine undersea sanctuaries, which are now along the entire coast of California.
Dam Comes Down on East Coast
In the St. Croix River, the border between the US and Canada, another forage fish is getting a break.
After nearly 20 years and just in time for their migration, alewives will be able to find their spawning grounds when the Grand Falls Dam is removed this month.
Though the dam originally provided passage
for migratory fish species including alewives, the fishway was closed in 1995 because sport fisherman were concerned they would out-compete small mouth bass, introduced for that purpose.
Removing native forage fish to improve habitat for introduced fish has devastated local salmon and other species. Alewives are eaten by almost every fish, including small mouth bass.
Historically, alewife numbered in
the millions there, but dropped to as low as 900 after the fishway closed. That tiny population has been maintained
by physically transporting fish around the dam each spring.
Here’s a short video on the importance of forage fish: