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Humpback whales feed on forage fish. (Photo: White Rich)

California's new policy takes precautionary approach with forage fisheries

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Friday, November 23, 2012, 22:40 (GMT + 9)

The California Fish and Game Commission has adopted a new state policy to manage California’s forage fisheries which officially recognizes the inordinately important role forage fish play in supporting healthy oceans.

Oceana commends the precautionary precedent set by the Commission, which establishes a new direction for fisheries on forage fish by considering how much to leave in the ocean to support the ecological, economic, and social values forage fish provide beyond their value in the fishing net.

“Industry and conservationists rolled up our sleeves to forge this policy. In the end, we all want healthy productive oceans,” said Geoff Shester, California Programme Director for Oceana. “This new policy is a solid step forward in setting the stage for new regulations and science to safeguard the foundation of California’s ocean food chain.”

Forage species are the base of the marine food web, providing a food source for larger predators, including whales, dolphins, sea lions, seabirds, sharks, and larger fish. Healthy and abundant populations of forage fish also support major commercial and recreational fishery species like chinook salmon, albacore and bluefin tuna, marlin, several species of rockfish, California halibut, sablefish, and white seabass.

The heart of the new policy is to “freeze the menu” -- prevent the development of new forage fisheries or expansion of existing fisheries unless and until there is adequate science available to ensure that those species can be fished sustainably and without negative consequences for their predators. Major existing state-managed fisheries on forage species include market squid and Pacific herring, while a wide suite of other forage species are currently not fished, but could be subject to new fishery development at any time. 

The policy was supported by a diverse consensus of commercial and recreational fishing organisations, seafood businesses, conservation groups, and thousands of California residents.

“The importance of the ocean’s tiny fish is often overlooked,” said Ashley Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator with Oceana.

“Because forage fish are critical to the sustainability of California’s environment, we commend the Fish and Game Commission’s leadership and commitment to recognizing and accounting for the importance of these little fish in future fisheries decisions.”

Until now, there were no guidelines on how to manage forage fish differently than other fish or what ecological factors need to be considered when managing the foundation of the food web. The Fish and Game Commission will now make their decisions based on a set of principles to ensure there is enough forage in the ocean to support both the ecosystem and the diverse economic interests that depend on forage fisheries.



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