aerial view of a wave crashing on beach

Project

Pacific Ocean Conservation

Ocean health along the U.S. West Coast

Promoting an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management along the U.S. West Coast by making sure we leave enough forage fish in the water as critical prey for marine wildlife; protecting ecologically sensitive areas from deep-sea corals on the ocean bottom to seabird foraging hot spots on the surface; and reducing the number of animals unintentionally killed by indiscriminate types of fishing gear. 

Pew works to promote ocean health along the U.S. West Coast. We work to conserve forage fish as critical prey for marine wildlife; protect ecologically sensitive areas, from pristine deep-sea corals on the ocean bottom to hot spots where foraging seabirds congregate on the surface; and reduce the number of animals killed unintentionally in fishing gear, commonly referred to as bycatch.

The Pacific Ocean supports a vibrant West Coast fishing industry, both for people who fish for a living and for sport. The upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water from ocean depths creates such a rich and diverse hot spot of marine life, the California Current has been termed a marine Serengeti. By promoting an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management, we can sustain vibrant marine ecosystems and the coastal communities those systems support.

Conserving forage fish
Thriving ocean ecosystems rely on plenty of oil-rich forage fish such as sardines, anchovies and herring. These small schooling fish occupy the crucial midpoint of the ocean food web and are preyed upon by many species of seabirds, marine mammals and commercially and recreationally important fish such as salmon, tuna, groundfish and other predators.

Many of these forage populations are not monitored or managed, and fishing regulations do not explicitly account for their value as a crucial food source for top predators. Developing a new approach, one that balances the needs of an ecosystem as a whole, will ensure that we maintain the food base that is vital for a healthy ocean and sustainable fishing industry.

Protecting ocean habitat
A healthy ecosystem means protecting ecologically sensitive areas of seafloor such as sponges and deep-sea corals. These areas, in turn, support an abundance of groundfish that makes sustainable fishing possible. As we continue to learn more about habitat deep beneath the surface, we must take care to protect these places from damaging fishing practices, such as heavy nets that scrape across deep-sea corals.

West Coast residents take pride in managing natural resources sustainably. However, many would be surprised to learn that off the California coast, thousands of animals are unnecessarily entangled and killed by an indiscriminate form of fishing gear targeting swordfish and thresher sharks.  Nets as long as a mile, submerged at night for hours at a time, sweep up plenty of animals the fishermen never intended to catch – including whales, leatherback sea turtles, blue sharks, dolphins, and many species of fish.

It is time for West Coast fishery managers to phase out the use of drift gillnets and shift to alternatives that enable sustainable fishing without needlessly killing thousands of animals as bycatch.

Fishermen looking at forage fish on boat
Fishermen looking at forage fish on boat
Report

The State of the Science

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Report

In the California Current, a diverse group of forage fishes play an important and often underappreciated role in the “middle” of the food web.

Tim Shelmerdine
Tim Shelmerdine
Article

‘A Healthy Ecosystem Depends on Forage Fish’

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Article

“Skua!” The bow of the 52-foot tour boat dips forward, then rises to meet the horizon. “Skua!” the call comes again from veteran birder David Mandel. He’s spotted a south polar skua off the starboard bow, one of scores of sightings throughout a daylong offshore birding trip hosted by Tim Shelmerdine of Oregon Pelagic Tours. For many on the tour, this skua is a “life bird,” a species that a birder sees and identifies in the wild for the first time.

Our Work

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Article

The Magnuson-Stevens Act at 40

Reasons major U.S. fishing law should shift to big picture management

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On April 13, 2016, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law that governs fishing in U.S. ocean waters, turns 40.

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