Forage Fish Protected on U.S. Coasts (Winter 2013 Trust Magazine)

03/08/2013 - It was a big year for little fish after Pew-backed efforts led to increased protections for forage species on the East and West coasts of the United States.

In November 2012, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted a policy to protect the small schooling fish, incorporating recommendations from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. And in December, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved the first coastwide catch limit for menhaden, another small but important fish.

Forage fish—which include anchovies, herring, and sardines, in addition to menhaden—are a crucial part of the ocean food web because they eat tiny plants and animals, known as plankton, and then are consumed by larger fish and seabirds. Their populations have plummeted in the past half-century because humans also catch them in large numbers for uses such as bait, nutritional supplements, and animal feed.

The forage fish task force, convened by the Pew-managed Lenfest ocean program, concluded in its 2012 report that the fish are worth twice as much if left in the water as food for other species than if they are caught directly. California's new policy should result in regulations that limit new fishing for forage species until their sustainability is scientifically established. (Learn more at

On the East Coast, Pew, which has been pushing hard for menhaden protection, thanked its activists for contacting the Atlantic fisheries commission in support of catch limits. Commissioners received 126,000 comments from the public before their historic vote to reduce the catch by 25 percent from 2011 levels.

"Sound science clearly calls for leaving more of these fish in the water to fulfill their ecological role," said Peter Baker, director of Pew's Northeast fisheries program. "More menhaden means more food for ocean wildlife, from seabirds to whales and popular game fish such as striped bass."

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—Carol Hutchinson

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