Lenfest Ocean Program

Supporting Science and Communicating Results

Research Project

Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force

GRANT AWARDED: September 2008. In April 2012, the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force issued "Little Fish, Big Impact," the most comprehensive global analysis of forage fish management to date. Forage fish, or small schooling fish such as anchovies and sardines, play a critical role in the marine food web as prey for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Harvest of forage fish for the growing aquaculture and farm animal industries have placed these species under increasing commercial pressure. The Task Force surveyed the literature, conducted new quantitative modeling, and developed specific recommendations that fisheries managers can use to improve the sustainability of forage fisheries. In July the task force held a side event at the UN FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meeting in Rome. A copy of their presentation is below under "fact sheets."

Summary Materials:

This publication summarizes the April 2012 report "Little Fish, Big Impact," by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, a group of 13 preeminent scientists formed to provide practical advice on sustainable management. The Task Force found that conventional management can be risky for forage fish because it does not adequately account for their wide population swings and high catchability.

Summary: Little Fish, Big Impact

Resume: Petits Poissons, Grand Impact (French summary)

Resumen: Pequenos Peces, Grand Impacto (Spanish summary)

Fact Sheets:

This table provides details on the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force's recommendations for management based on "information tiers." This table is also included in the Lenfest Ocean Program publication "Summary: Little Fish, Big Impact."

The Economic Value of Forage Fish

European Union fact sheet

COFI forage fish presentation

Publications and Reports:


The most comprehensive report to date on forage fish biology and management. It finds that fisheries managers need to pay more careful attention to the special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators.

Little Fish, Big Impact - Report Appendices

Link to the summary of this report

Resumen: Pequenos Peces, Gran Impacto (Spanish summary)

Published Papers

Pikitch, E.K. 2012. Little Fish in a Big Pond. The Scientist. Nov. 1, 2012.

In this "Critic at Large" piece, the chair of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force aregues that continued overfishing of forage fish can result in devastating ecological and economic outcomes.

Link to article in The Scientist

November, 2012

Pikitch, E.K. 2012. The Risks of Overfishing. Science 338 (6106), 474-475. [DOI:10.1126/science.1229965]

This Perspectives article responds to research showing that globally, the vast majority of exploited fish populations have been depleted to abundance levels well below those recommended by conventional management guidance. It argues that this evidence is even more alarming in the context of the evolving understanding of fishing and its ecological effects.

Link to article in Science

October, 2012

Pikitch, E. K., Rountos, K. J., Essington, T. E., Santora, C., Pauly, D., Watson, R., Sumaila, U. R., Boersma, P. D., Boyd, I. L., Conover, D. O., Cury, P., Heppell, S. S., Houde, E. D., Mangel, M., Plagányi, É., Sainsbury, K., Steneck, R. S., Geers, T. M., Gownaris, N. and Munch, S. B. (2012), The global contribution of forage fish to marine fisheries and ecosystems. Fish and Fisheries. doi: 10.1111/faf.12004

Link to article in Fish and Fisheries

September, 2012

Bakun, A., E. A. Babcock, et al. 2010. Issues of ecosystem-based management of forage fisheries in "open" non-stationary ecosystems: the example of the sardine fishery in the Gulf of California.Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 20(1): 9-29.

Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries paper

March, 2010

Bakun, A., E. A. Babcock, et al. 2009. Regulating a complex adaptive system via its wasp-waist: grappling with ecosystem-based management of the New England herring fishery. ICES Journal of Marine Science 66(8): 1768-1775.

ICES Journal of Marine Science paper

September, 2009


Press Releases

Fish & Fisheries Paper from Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force

Expert Task Force Recommends Halving Global Fishing for Crucial Prey Species

Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force Launched

Science Perspectives article, “The Risks of Overfishing,” published by Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force Chair Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch

Lenfest in the News

Forage Fish report one of "Ten Best Ocean Stories of 2012"

Conservation Magazine - Winter 2013

Washington Post article

New York Times article

Los Angeles Times article

Science Insider article

Other Links

Task Force website


Managing Forage Fish — Recommendations from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force 

Credit: Lenfest Ocean Program

Recent Work

Media Contact

Elizabeth Striano

Officer, Communications