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Sockeye salmon in a stream. (Photo Credit: NOAA/USFWS)

New draft ecological plan takes broader approach to protect salmon

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 02:30 (GMT + 9)

The Fisheries Ecosystem Plan currently under review would shift how decision-makers manage fisheries on the West Coast by focusing on strengthening the stocks of fish on which salmon and other species feed, rather than on the populations of bigger fish themselves.

Tim Roth, a deputy project leader for the federal Columbia River Fisheries Programme in Vancouver, believes this shift represents a move toward broader ecosystem-based management, rather than the previous policy’s species-by-species approach. The new approach is much more likely to be successful and bring better fish runs in Northwest rivers, he explained.

This is the first time that managing fisheries on an ecosystem basis has been put into writing in this way and taken such a big-picture view, added Roth, who also works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is a non-voting service representative on the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC).

"As they were developed, they didn't really look across the broad complexities of species and how they interacted," he stated, The Columbian reports.

The Fisheries Management Plan, which would not have direct regulatory authority, will be presented to the council at meeting in Portland next month.

Environmental groups have welcomed the plan and its more encompassing approach to regional ecosystems. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently highlighted the importance of forage fish in the marine food web.

"What really fuels all of this are these little … fish that never get their day in the sun," said Paul Shively, a campaign manager with the Pew Trusts who called the fishery management council's draft plan "rather visionary."

In November 2012, leaders with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council wrote to the PFMC stressing the significance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem and thus the health of stocks of larger fish.

Roth commented that the new plan may first provoke more conservative management of West Coast fisheries, but this may change as managers learn more about how marine species interact with each other.

"It might mean lower catches in the near term until we better understand these relationships," Roth said.

By Natalia Real


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