The Pacific Northwest benefits from a healthy and productive marine ecosystem, but most of us are unaware of the key link in the ocean food web. Commonly known as forage fish, tiny fish like sand lance and smelt eat plankton and then become protein for everything else, including iconic animals like salmon and whales.
This month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is due to consider protecting forage species that are currently unmanaged and vulnerable to new fisheries popping up at any time. Currently, many forage species are available with no fishing restrictions or regulations of any kind. While demand is rising to turn these forage fish into a global commodity shipped around the world to feed livestock, poultry and farmed fish, this is not the best use of a valuable natural asset. The PFMC should make sure it understands the effect of pulling large volumes of prey out of the marine food web before a new fishery begins.
If we expect to ever recover our wild population of salmon, which depend upon these forage fish, Pacific fishery managers must suspend the development of new fisheries on these lesser known forage species like sand lance and smelt — the little fish deserve our support.