Forage species poised for enhanced protection on the west coast


Common Murre with a baby octopus, northern California.

Most of you have heard of sardine, anchovy, and herring- the small fish that sustain our coastal and pelagic seabirds and other marine wildlife. Turns out, there are many other species of “forage fish” such as squid, saury, smelt, sand lance and even octopi that can be just as important for seabirds. Federal fisheries managers with control over fishing in the vast federal waters of California, Oregon and Washington will meet next week and consider options to enhance protections for these lesser-known prey—and the Audubon network will be there to advocate on behalf of our seabirds.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, or PFMC, is responsible for setting harvest quotas for fish caught in the vast federal waters of California, Oregon and Washington. In the last two years, Audubon California and the Audubon Society of Portland have partnered with a larger west coast forage team spearheaded by the Pew Trusts and Oceana, to improve protections for the small fish our seabirds depend on in a big way.

In 2013, the PFMC adopted an ecosystem plan for all its operations, which puts priority on protecting forage fish, starting with “unmanaged” species such as saury, smelt, sand lance, some types of squid, and octopi. PFMC’s intent is to ensure that before allowing new fisheries on forage fish, we understand and account for how much of these fish must be left in the water to sustain seabirds, marine mammals and bigger fish.

Next week, the Council will consider alternatives for protecting currently unmanaged forage fish, that is, species that are not fished and/or are not part of existing “fishery management plans.” Including forage fish in these plans is the best way to ensure basic conservation measures are put in place. By adopting these alternatives and releasing them for public comment, the council can take final action this year.

The council’s discussion is especially timely in light of the recent steep decline of Pacific sardines, which could potentially increase fishing pressure on similar—but currently more abundant—unmanaged forage species such as smelts, sauries, sand lance and octopi.

Representing the interests of seabirds, Audubon California, the Audubon Society of Portland, and the Pacific Seabird Group (the organization of seabird scientists) all submitted comment letters in support of the Council moving forward with getting these important prey species under the protection of fishery management plans.

For a cormorant's eye view of what it is like to hunt for forage fish on our west coast, watch this incredible short video produced by the Pew Trusts and featuring some of our favorite seabirds AND favorite marine ecologists.

The Audubon Society of Portland (representing Audubon chapters in Oregon) is our Pacific Flyway partner in forage fish advocacy and will join Audubon California (representing National Audubon) at the Council meeting next week, where we will jointly testify on behalf of seabirds. We will let you know what happens!



How you can help, right now