Maybe you have seen this going around? About the little fish that our big fish eat?
As fishermen, we fight over a lot of things: water, hatcheries, habitat, harvest.
But when’s the last time we took a stand for something from which we all benefit? You know, like what happens in the ocean, where our salmon and steelhead spend most of their lives. Here’s our chance. It’s time we pay more attention to the little fish our big fish eat.
These fish, known as forage fish, are currently unmanaged.
Forage fish include herring, anchovies, sardines, dace, smelt, squid etc. They eat phytoplankton and turn it into protein for the big critters, like seals, whales and birds. And, of course, our salmon and steelhead.
Due to declines in some species, (see the sardine issue) commercial fishermen are looking for new species to harvest. These little fish make great fish-farm feed, so they’re being targeted by some commercial anglers. Of all these little fish, only anchovies, market squid, Pacific herring, and sardines are regulated on the West Coast. We at TU, and many of conservation partners, believe all the little fish in the ocean matter, and should be carefully managed (see this from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council). These little fish—aside from feeding our salmon and steelhead—are the foundation of complex, saltwater food web that could crater if these fish were to become scarce.
They make our steelhead and salmon strong so they can swim upstream to places as near to the ocean as Siletz, Ore., or as far as Salmon, Idaho. They also create massive bait balls at the mouths of some of our biggest rivers, like the Columbia, providing incredible cover for outgoing salmon smolts that run a gauntlet of birds, seals and predator fish as they enter the ocean.
Protecting these bigger fish means starting small. So take a minute and Take Action – Tell the Pacific Fisheries Management Council the time is now to protect unmanaged Forage Fish – Deadline for Comments is March 30.