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International Fisheries Task Force Met in Portland, ME, to Develop Smart Management Plans for Forage Fish, a Growing Target of Commercial Fishing Operations

“Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force” working to ensure that forage fish populations continue to flourish; excessive removal can imperil marine food webs
October 15, 2009

STONY BROOK, NY - The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force met from October 12-14 in Portland, ME to continue developing critical management recommendations for “forage fish,” small prey fish like sardines, anchovies and menhaden that are caught by commercial fisheries on a massive scale, almost always without consideration of their essential role in oceanic food webs.

Chaired by Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, the Task Force includes 13 highly respected scientists from around the world. It is the first scientific team to comprehensively address the global management of forage fish, a critical food source for marine mammals, seabirds, and many large fish species. The removal of forage fish by industrial-scale fisheries poses widespread ecosystem ramifications. By late 2010, the Lenfest Task Force (http://oceanconservationscience.org/foragefish) will deliver specific recommendations to policy makers and fishery managers for managing forage fisheries using ecosystem-based management (EBM). EBM incorporates food web dynamics and environmental factors, in contrast to traditional species-by-species management.

“Forage fish are the ‘foundation fish’ of the ocean, and if you erode the foundation, the entire food web can collapse,” said Dr. Pikitch, an internationally recognized fisheries management expert who is also a Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “Forage fish are being more intensely harvested than ever before,” she said. “They now account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s wild marine fish catch. Current management plans often fail to consider the oceanic predators that need these fish as food to survive.”

Task force members have expertise in a wide variety of disciplines and geographic areas – critical for a comprehensive assessment of this complex issue. Detailed information on each member can be found at http://oceanconservationscience.org/foragefish/.

The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force is supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which sponsors scientific research aimed at forging solutions to challenges facing the global marine environment. The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University is dedicated to advancing ocean conservation through science. The Institute transforms real-world policy while pursuing serious science, both of which are essential for ocean health. Visit http://oceanconservationscience.org.

FORAGE FISH FAQs:
WHAT ARE FORAGE FISH?
Forage fish are small schooling fishes that feed on plankton and are eaten by larger predators that are higher on the food chain. These “foundation” fish play a fundamental role in marine ecosystems by converting energy from lower trophic levels into food for larger fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Forage fish can also benefit the ecosystem: For example, menhaden in Chesapeake Bay act as filter feeders thus maintaining water quality and helping to prevent algae blooms. Forage fish species include sardines, herring, anchovy, krill and menhaden.

HOW ARE THEY IMPACTED BY “SYSTEM” CHANGE?
Forage fish species are heavily influenced by changes in environmental and oceanographic conditions, including natural climate variation, upwelling, and predator dynamics. For example, in coastal Peru, the anchovy population shrinks when El Niño conditions occur. During these times, fishing must decrease to safeguard the population. The Task Force is investigating how environmental forces and fishing pressure can impact forage fish, and will use this information to develop holistic and precautionary fisheries management strategies.

HOW DO HUMANS USE FORAGE FISH?
Of the 31.5 million tons of forage extracted from the world's oceans each year, 90 percent is “reduced” into fish meal and fish oil that is primarily used for livestock and aquaculture feeds and for human dietary supplements, according to a November 2008 study co-authored by task force member Dr. Daniel Pauly and primarily funded by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

DANGER OF OVER-EXPLOITATION?
Unsustainable exploitation of forage fish can fracture the marine food web, and cause declines in seabird and marine mammal populations.

WHAT IS ECOSYSTEM-BASED MANAGEMENT?
It is now widely acknowledged that the interconnected nature of marine populations requires a multispecies approach to management that incorporates food web dynamics and environmental factors. For example, EBM would consider the food needs of penguins in setting fishing limits for penguins' prey. As Task Force member Dr. Dee Boersma of the University of Washington, a world expert on penguins, explains: “Penguins are not the target of fishing operations, but they clearly are suffering the consequences. These flightless birds spend half their lives underwater, feeding mostly on krill, squid, and small fish. Their survival is directly threatened by excessive forage fishing.”

Learn more about the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force
View images related to forage fisheries
Visit the official Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force website

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