A new rule will prohibit commercial forage fishing off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has decided to ban all commercial forage fishing on the West Coast.
Forage species are critical prey for salmon, tuna, rockfish and other important fish in the Northwest. They are also important to sea birds and whales. If they are overfished, a potential ripple effect could endanger the entire ecosystem.
Ben Enticknap, a senior scientist with Oceana said, “We’re seeing increasing demand for fishmeal, which is made of forage fish. Right now, peruvian anchovy catches are down. We’re worried fishermen will notice the opportunity along the West Coast and try to start up a fishery here.”
Rather than wait for forage fisheries to be targeted by commercial fishing outfits, the Pacific Coast Council banned forage fishing outright with their recent vote.
Fisheries conservation groups have been constantly soliciting the council to protect the food chain that supports ocean fisheries. Since forage fish are the staple food source for larger fish and birds, conservationists believe that protecting them also protects the health of the predator species that depend on forage fish.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council has been working on these rules since 2006 when they focused on krill fishing. In 2009 they expanded it to all forage fish.
This rule would only effect federal waters that go from three miles to two hundred miles offshore. The rules do not apply to sardines and anchovies but do apply to Pacific sand lance, silversides, and certain varieties of herring, smelt, and squid.
While there were no known West Coast fishing outfits contemplating taking up the harvesting of forage fisheries, a greater concern was international fishing companies that may have sought to get into this growing market.