Federal Fisheries Council Initiates Process to Protect Unmanaged Forage Fish - Oceana USA

Federal Fisheries Council Initiates Process to Protect Unmanaged Forage Fish

Oceana Commends Strong Plan of Action to “Freeze the Menu”

Press Release Date: June 27, 2012

Location: San Mateo, California


Dustin Cranor, APR | email: dcranor@oceana.org | tel: 954.348.1314


Yesterday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) finalized its decision to prohibit the development of new fisheries for forage fish off the West Coast. The decision reverses the burden of proof on new fisheries, setting up a process and timetable for interim protective measures and a regulatory process to implement a long-term prohibition on new fisheries.

“The Council took a huge step forward establishing a new, proactive approach to close the door on new fisheries on forage species until we have the science to manage them sustainably”, said Geoff Shester, California Program Director for Oceana. “We commend the Council’s comprehensive package of tools that will ultimately freeze the menu.”

Forage fish are the ocean’s small fish and invertebrates that support a healthy marine food web as prey for larger animals – like dolphins, whales, seabirds, and recreationally and commercially important fish species like salmon, tuna and rockfish. They have immense ecological importance and financially, they are worth more in the water where they can serve their role as prey than when they are caught in a net. Fisheries for forage fish such as sardine and anchovy already have management measures and active fisheries in place, but other forage fish of similar importance in the ecosystem (like myctophids, smelts, sand lance, and saury) are not managed at all.  The primary concern is that the increasing global demand for aquaculture feeds will make fisheries for these critically important, yet unmanaged species economically viable.  The Pacific Fishery Management Council has jurisdiction over all fishing activities in federal waters off Washington, Oregon, and California from 3 to 200 miles off the coastline.

The Council laid out a 3-part approach and adopted the following timetable:

  1. Complete and a Fishery Ecosystem Plan by March 2013, setting up an annual “State of the Ecosystem Report” to guide fishery management decisions.
  2. Revise the List of Allowable Fisheries off the U.S. west coast by March 2013, requiring a notification process for any new fishery, giving the Council the opportunity to take action before such a fishery proceeds.
  3. Initiate a Fishery Management Plan process in June 2013, adding currently unmanaged forage species to Council authority and enacting regulatory prohibitions on new directed fisheries.

“The Council solidified its recognition that the little fish are hugely important. Rather than waiting for a crisis, the Council has proactively taken the threat of new forage fisheries off the table.” stated Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana. 


Oceana commends the Council’s decision to establish regulatory safeguards through federal fishery management plans for these small, but critically important fish, similar to actions taken by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council off Alaska and what this Council has already done to protect krill.  Washington has already established similar protections in its coastal waters, and we hope to see Oregon and California take parallel action in their state ocean waters.

The Council’s decision this week followed an outpouring of public testimony from commercial and recreational fishermen, seafood business owners, conservation groups, and tens of thousands of West Coast residents who support moving ahead now with meaningful protections for forage fish.



Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.