New commercial fisheries of forage fish won’t be allowed on the West Coast after federal officials finalized rules April 4.
“Instead of responding to a fishery crisis, they’re being proactive,” said Ben Enticknap, senior scientist with the conservation group Oceana. “Too often, fisheries start up and nothing is done to manage them in a sustainable way until the population crashes and by then, it’s too late.”
Forage fish are the small, schooling fish that larger fish, birds and marine mammals need for food. The ban doesn’t affect existing fisheries, such as sardines and anchovies. The restrictions apply to federal waters from 3 to 200 miles off Washington, Oregon and California.
Fishing authorized by tribes are not affected by the new rules. In general, officials say, fishermen don’t harvest forage fish in federal waters. Also, no boats are known to be considering efforts to do so.
The ban, according to Paul Shively, who directs West Coast ocean conservation efforts for the Pew Charitable Trusts, is proactive because global demand is rising for the use of forage fish in products such as fish meal or oil.
In addition to the ban, the rules also limit the amount of forage fish that can be caught while targeting other species. The rules also allow for experiments in the future regarding the harvest of the fish.