PORTLAND, Oregon—The Pew Charitable Trusts today commended the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service for a new federal rule that protects dozens of forage fish species in federal waters along the U.S. West Coast. The rule establishes precautionary protection for many small, schooling fish because of their importance as a food source for seabirds, marine mammals, and bigger fish such as salmon and tuna.
This action adds legal force to a policy approved unanimously in 2015 by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages fishing in federal waters from 3 to 200 miles off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. The rule prohibits commercial fishing from starting on seven broad groups of prey species, such as smelt and sand lance, until managers can assess the potential effects on the ecosystem. It sets the stage for California and Oregon to adopt similar policies in state-managed waters and establishes a precedent for similar protections in other regions of the country.
Paul Shively, who directs West Coast ocean conservation efforts for Pew, issued the following statement:
“This landmark decision recognizes that a healthy ocean depends on an abundant and diverse array of forage fish species. These little fish are truly a big deal when it comes to ocean health.
“NOAA should be applauded for showing that responsible fishery management requires asking questions before a commercial fishery begins, rather than after problems arise.
“Some of the species protected today are already fished heavily elsewhere around the world, so West Coast fishery leaders should be commended for ensuring that a marine ecosystem will remain healthy before allowing any new fisheries targeting forage fish.
“Worldwide, about 90 percent of the forage fish catch is turned into fish meal or oil for purposes such as feeding livestock or farmed fish. With increasing demands on our oceans, NOAA’s decision today accounts for the ecological and economic value of leaving forage fish in the water rather than simply hauling it out in a net.”
More information on Pacific forage fish is available at www.pewtrusts.org/littlefishbigdeal.
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