Sweeping Protections for the Ocean’s Tiny Fish - Oceana USA

Sweeping Protections for the Ocean’s Tiny Fish

Hundreds of Forage Species Safeguarded off Entire U.S. West Coast

Press Release Date: April 17, 2017

Location: Monterey, CA


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


Today, hundreds of species of the ocean’s smallest schooling fish are protected from the shoreline to 200 miles out to sea and from Washington’s northern border to California’s southern border to ensure a healthy and productive ocean into the future. New regulations put in place on Saturday, April 15 by the State of California prohibit new fisheries from developing on certain species of forage fish from zero to three miles unless and until it can be demonstrated these tiny, but critical fish can be caught without causing harm to the ecosystem. With similar regulations in place in Washington and Oregon state waters (0-3 miles) and in federal waters coast-wide (3-200 miles), this action by California is the last piece of the puzzle completing sweeping protections that now apply to all U.S. ocean waters on the West Coast from shore out to 200 miles. 

“California just took a bold step toward ecosystem-based management of our oceans,” said Geoff Shester, Oceana’s California Campaign Director and Senior Scientist. “By protecting the foundation of the ocean food web before new fisheries develop, California has safeguarded healthy fishing communities and ocean wildlife for generations to come.”

Forage species—the small, oily and nutrient-rich fish that fuel a healthy ocean food web—are crucial to the diets of whales, sea lions, dolphins, sharks, swordfish, several species of rockfish, tuna, halibut, salmon, and seabirds. Globally, there is increasing demand for forage fish used to produce fishmeal for aquaculture and agriculture industries. The actions to prevent new commercial fisheries from developing for these small schooling fish unless and until there is  careful consideration and analyses of potential effects on the ocean ecosystem and existing fisheries will ensure larger predators have enough to eat. The new regulations do not affect existing fisheries for forage species like market squid, sardines, anchovy, or herring; however, they prevent new forage species from becoming subject to directed target until potential impacts can be evaluated. The species protected—including smelts, myctophid lanternfish, sand lance, saury, squids, silversides, and grunion— together comprise roughly 70 percent of the total weight of forage species in ocean waters off the West Coast, according to recent models.

The path to achieving these landmark protections is a story almost two decades in the making, and one that Oceana has worked tirelessly to see to fruition with conservation groups, businesses, fishermen, and policymakers. In 1998, the state of Washington adopted a Forage Fish Management Plan specifically targeted to safeguard certain species of forage fish.  Krill—the general name used for 85 species of small shrimp-like crustaceans that play a critical role in the productivity of the ocean—were prohibited from new, targeted fisheries coast-wide in 2009 by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In 2015, the Pacific Fishery Management Council took similar precautionary action by voting to prohibit new, directed fisheries from starting on seven groups of forage species—like round and thread herring, mesopelagic fishes, Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury, Silversides, Osmerid smelts, and pelagic squids (other than Humboldt squid)—in federal waters (3-200 miles) off the U.S. West Coast. The National Marine Fisheries Service made those protections final in April of 2016. This week’s regulations apply to protections in California state waters (0-3 miles), effectively implementing the California Fish and Game Commission’s 2012 forage species policy to “prevent the development of new or expanded forage fisheries.”  

For additional details, read more about the forage fish story here.

California’s new regulations can be found here.


Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one third of the world’s wild fish catch. With over 100 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and killing of threatened species like turtles and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that one billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. To learn more about Oceana’s work in the United States, please visit www.usa.oceana.org.