Forage fish are small to medium-sized species that include anchovies, herring, menhaden, and sardines. Direct catch of forage fish makes up more than one-third of the world’s marine fish catch and has contributed to the collapse of some forage fish populations. Fisheries managers need to pay more careful attention to the special vulnerabilities of forage fish and the cascading effects of forage fishing on predators, according to the April 2012 report Little Fish, Big Impact. The report is from 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. It also fails to capture the critical role of forage fish as food for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially important fish such as tuna, salmon, and cod. As a default, 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. Even more stringent measures are advised when important biological information is missing. Similarly, less precautionary management measures will be necessary in ecosystems that have a “high” level of information about the forage fish and their predators.
This document is a summary that describes the Task Force’s three-tiered precautionary approach to the management of forage fish.