04/14/2012 - ARE WHALES wonderful? Think herring. Are penguins cute? Think krill. Like hooking stripers? Think menhaden.
“I’m not sure you can ever make them sexy, but if you take out the herring, you take out the whales,’’ said Ed Houde of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “Charismatic marine mammals and seabirds get all the attention. But historically, we really haven’t measured the abundance of their food. Lots of these things depend on menhaden and herring for 50 to 100 percent of their diet.’’
Maybe no one can wave a wand to turn krill into the Cinderella of the sea, but they are marine royalty. This month, a major report found that the world’s “forage fish,’’ the diminutive species that are breakfast, lunch, and dinner for so many larger marine creatures, face unsustainable worldwide pressure from commercial fishing for livestock feed, fish farming, and nutritional supplements in our medicine cabinets. Some parts of the world are already seeing the effects with a crash of penguins in South Africa, massive seabird declines in Peru, and tern disappearances in the Bay of Fundy.
The percentage of forage fish in the annual worldwide fish harvest has more than quadrupled in the last half century to 37 percent. The human pressure has become so intense that a team of American, British, French, Canadian, and Australian scientists recommend slashing the global forage fish catch in half.
“We recognize that adoption and implementation of our recommendations would constitute a major break from tradition,’’ said the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. Lenfest is managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts. “However . . . the Task Force felt strongly that avoiding pushing species toward extinction is a requirement for upholding ecosystem integrity.’’
Read the full editorial, Prince Herring: Glamourizing the Forage Fish, on the Boston Globe's website.