Image Gallery

A Glimpse Into the Underwater Web of Life

Some of the smallest fish in the sea play one of the biggest roles in ocean ecosystems. Baitfish, such as mullet, ballyhoo, and sardines—also known as forage species—are food for seabirds; marine mammals, including whales and dolphins; and important fish species, such as tarpon, grouper, and king mackerel. Without enough forage fish, marine ecosystems that provide recreation, jobs, and seafood are at risk.

Nature photographer Paul Dabill documented the behaviors of forage fish and their predators near Singer Island off Florida’s southeast coast. He shot his photos where the Gulf Stream’s clear, azure waters flow directly to shore. Dabill timed his dive to the 2014 fall mullet run—a time when these popular baitfish migrate from coastal to offshore waters to reproduce.

Dabill, who lives near Palm Beach, is an avid spearfisherman and angler whose photos have appeared in many outdoor magazines, including Florida Sportsman and Florida Sportfishing. His underwater videos have appeared on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and the Florida Wildlife Federation are working with conservationists, scientists, fishermen, state agencies, and other stakeholders to promote sustainable management of forage fish populations. This means leaving enough of these species in the water to fulfill their role as prey, conserving important habitat, and ensuring that environmental conditions allow these species to flourish.

IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser and Justin Grubich, a fisheries policy expert at Pew, teamed up to develop this slideshow and provide insights to Dabill’s images. The information with each photo explains the behavior, biology, and role of forage fish in ocean food webs; the popular wildlife that depend on forage fish as food; and some of the threats facing these important species. Schratwieser and Grubich are predator-prey specialists, and Grubich holds two world fishing records.

Conserving Florida’s forage fish today will help ensure that future generations can enjoy healthy ocean ecosystems. To support efforts to conserve these species, please take the Florida Forage Fish conservation pledge online at and read more at

Media Contact

Debbie Salamone

Officer, Communications