Pacific fishery managers approve new forage fish restrictions

The Oregonian
10 March 2015

Pacific coast fishery managers on Tuesday made a landmark decision to protect species at the bottom of the ocean food chain.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates the fishing industry in federal waters off California, Oregon and Washington, voted during a meeting in Vancouver to ban all new forage fisheries unless fishermen who want to start one can prove they can do so without harming the ecosystem.

Forage fish, or baitfish, are small species such as sardines, smelt and krill that are a vital food source for larger fish, marine mammals and birds.

Marine conservation groups lauded the decision as a major win for an ecosystem struggling to respond to a host of pressures including fishing, climate change and ocean acidification.

“This is a great step for ocean health,” said Paul Shively, who leads the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Pacific Ocean conservation efforts.

Existing fisheries for Pacific sardine, anchovies and other forage fish will not be affected under the new rules, but hundreds of species that are currently unregulated, such as saury and sand lance, will gain protections.

Although the rules only apply to federal waters between three miles and 200 miles offshore, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is expected to craft similar rules restricting new fisheries in state-regulated near shore waters.

The new rules are the council’s first act under a new management style that encourages managers to make decisions with the health of the entire ecosystem in mind, rather than with a focus on individual species.

“It’s a real paradigm shift in how we look at fisheries management,” Shively said.

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