April 03, 2012
Forage Fish Harvests Should Be Halved

The oceans are being overfished (which is more olds than news).

WASHINGTON – Fishing for herring, anchovy, and other "forage fish" in general should be cut in half globally to account for their critical role as food for larger species, recommends an expert group of marine scientists in a report released today. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force conducted the most comprehensive worldwide analysis of the science and management of forage fish populations to date. Its report, "Little Fish, Big Impact: Managing a crucial link in ocean food webs," concluded that in most ecosystems at least twice as many of these species should be left in the ocean as conventional practice.

A thriving marine ecosystem relies on plenty of forage fish. These small schooling fish are a crucial link in ocean food webs because they eat tiny plants and animals, called plankton, and are preyed upon by animals such as penguins, whales, seals, puffins, and dolphins. They are primary food sources for many commercially and recreationally valuable fish found around North America, such as salmon, tuna, striped bass, and cod. The task force estimated that, globally, forage fish are twice as valuable in the water as in a net—contributing US$11.3 billion by serving as food for other commercially important fish. This is more than double the US$5.6 billion they generate as direct catch.

But what are the prospects for halting the tragedy of the commons on a global scale?

The United States has taken needed steps. But how to do this on a global scale?

In an effort to sustain commercial and recreational fishing for the next several decades, the United States this year will become the first country to impose catch limits for every species it manages, from Alaskan pollock to Caribbean queen conch.

Human populations continue to grow along with buying power for fish. How to stop overfishing in international waters? Also, countries that have short coast lines which cut fishing just leave more fish to be caught by neighboring countries. For example where's the incentive to cut overfishing off of African coasts? Many African countries have short coast lines.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 April 03 10:28 PM  Trends Extinction

Ronald Brak said at April 4, 2012 6:00 AM:

It is in Japan's interest to stop overfishing African waters and assist in the formation of a quota system that will guarrantee a supply of wild fish and squid for future decades. (Something like 80% of squid eaten in Japan come from African waters.) First you get the Japanese cooperation, then you get the quota system, and then, when you've got the quota system, you get the sustainable harvest.

Karlo said at April 4, 2012 7:20 AM:

This sort of issue is really important, but it's always difficult for the public to see the big picture. And the fact that we've cut the globes up into these arbitrary divisions called "countries" is making difficult to tackle these global issues. By the way, I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

matt said at April 5, 2012 10:06 AM:

The Japanese, Taiwanese, Poles, Spanish, Koreans, Russians and other countries send their fishing fleets far afield to fish both legally and illegally. They bribe public officials where they can, and make deals for fishing rights when they can. Their fleets are like vacuum cleaners and often a huge percentage of the catch is wasted.

It is the problem of the commons. Until someone can find a formula for equitable management of the oceans, especially for migratory species, there is no good solution.

West said at April 5, 2012 10:10 AM:

"Human populations continue to grow along with buying power for fish."

Well, if the fish get enough buying power, they can purchase the fishing boats and then sink them.

Arch said at April 5, 2012 10:37 AM:

My oldest son had the college coop job to die for - he was a GS-4 in the Bureau of Marine Fisheries station in Panama City Beach FL. He was studying marine biology and everyday he took a fully-equipped, government-owned Boston Whaler into the Gulf to fish. If you were a private citizen, you would have needed a Florida fishing license. The boat would cost you $300 to $500 per day. He got paid and received college credit for going fishing without a license.

Greg said at April 5, 2012 11:39 AM:

There is no solution. The oceans will die and then MAN. The "last best hope for mankind", the USA does not have the morality left, to make it right and none of the the other countries has any interest.

Kurmudge said at April 5, 2012 3:59 PM:

Why not encourage the fishermen to start working aquaculture for the forage varieties? Years ago, it was cost-effective to log in forests for normal structural construction timber supply (think plywood), and the big companies (e.g., Georgia Pacific) found that it was far more cost effective to switch to lumber plantations on private land using very fast-growing varieties, even coppiced shrubs, to create manufactured lumber. Now OSB is the cheap main product with perfectly good strength. and plywood is a novelty. Microlams are everywhere and perform as well or better than single tree beams.

PacRim Jim said at April 6, 2012 2:40 PM:

I can hardly wait — burp — for lab-synthesized fish.
Perhaps by then we'll be able to transport pre-masticated food directly into our stomachs, to save us the trouble of eating.
Better yet, transport pre-masticated and pre-digested food directly into our colons.
O tempora! O mores! O Mylanta!

Ronald Brak said at April 10, 2012 7:44 PM:

In my first comment I meant to say something like 80% squid caught in African waters go to Japan - not 80% of Japanese squid come from African waters. Sorry. And it's old infomation anyway. I should look up what the actual figures are now. But I probably won't.

Phillep Harding said at April 11, 2012 2:01 PM:

A fish weighing a hundred pounds had to eat hundreds (thousands?) of pounds of small fish to get there. Those smaller fish had to eat multiples of their own weight in even smaller fish to live long enough to be eaten. Direct harvest of the forage fish puts less burden on the ocean than indirect harvest (catching the big ones).

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