Anglers urge protection of forage fish

By Al Thomas, Columbian Outdoors Reporter

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Anglers and conservation groups have reiterated their support for protecting unmanaged forage species in the ocean and urged the Pacific Fishery Management Council to stay on task toward adopting safeguards.

The PFMC met in Vancouver last week and approved a range of alternatives for protecting unmanaged forage species. Protective measures might be added to each of the council’s four fishery management plans in one process.

Council members will review the alternatives in September in Spokane.

Yvonne deReynier of the council’s Ecosystem Workgroup said the initiative is to recognize the importance of forage fish off of the West Coast and to provide adequate protection.

The council is not pursuing a permanent moratorium on fishing for forage fish, but to prohibit new fisheries directed on forage species not managed until the council has had adequate opportunity to assess the science related to any proposed fishery.

Among the species being discussed are round and thread herring, Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury, silversides, smelts and many squids among others.

Landings of these species in other fisheries are infrequent and not well categorized, deReynier said.

Ben Dennis of Clark County told the council that — in a way — protection of forage fish is a local issue.

Dennis mentioned to the council how the East Fork of the Lewis River recently was designated as a wild steelhead gene bank by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

No hatchery steelhead will be released in the East Fork of the Lewis to help wild fish recover and prosper.

But the odds against young wild steelhead surviving are huge, Dennis said.

They face predation from a growing population of cormorants, terns, other seabirds, marine mammals and large fish.

“Herring, anchovies and sardine populations are necessary to provide cover,” he said.

Phil Pirone, owner of Pro-Cure Bait Scents, said he’s been told juvenile salmon rely on sand lance for 80 percent of their diet.

The technology exists to target and wipe out any species, he said.

“Much of our data is so questionable, at best,” Pirone said. “Pacific sardines were supposed to be well managed and they’ve disappeared. Was it cyclical? Or was it overharvest? Who knows for sure.”

With sardines largely a no-show, there will be pressure to harvest other forage species, he said.

“We can only put so much pressure on our oceans,” Pirone said.

Tom Wolf of the Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited said much work is being done inland to recover wild salmon runs, yet what happens in the ocean also is of critical importance.

“We highly value the role forage species, both managed and unmanaged, play in the success of species we consistently pursue, particularly salmon, halibut, steelhead, albacore, bottomfish, even crab,” said Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association.

Rees and Norm Ritchie of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders urged the council to complete the process and have protections in place before the end of 2014.