Help Seabirds by Protecting Forage Fish

With seabird populations on the decline, it’s more important than ever to safeguard their food supply.

From now until February 9, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) will be accepting public comments on a Proposed Rule that would prevent new commercial fishing on currently unfished, unmanaged forage fish in federal waters, from three to 200 miles off California, Oregon and Washington. The proposed rule would protect Round Herring/Thread Herring, Mesopelagic Fishes, Pacific Sand Lance, Pacific Saury, Silversides, Smelts, and Pelagic Squids unless it could be shown that fishing for them would not have an adverse impact on the overall ecosystem.

A photo of a Tufted Puffin taking off from the water.
Tufted Puffin, photo by Mick Thompson

Forage fish form the base of the ocean food web and are the cornerstone of the California Current Ecosystem, the marine ecosystem off our West Coast and one of the most productive in the world. Seabirds and other marine wildlife depend on forage species for food. For over three years, Bird Alliance of Oregon and partner organizations including Pew Charitable Trusts, Bird Alliance of Oregon California, and Bird Alliance of Oregon Washington have worked with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to ensure protection of these small, nutrient-rich fish by incorporating them into existing fishery management plans. The PFMC successfully completed this process in 2015. The last step is for NOAA Fisheries to finalize these protections as formal regulations in the Federal Register.

Click here for more details on the Proposed Rule.

How You Can Help

NOAA Fisheries will be accepting public comments until February 9. Please send an electronic comment or letter thanking them for their work to date and ask them to move forward by: 

  • Approve new drafts of  four Fishery Management Plans that include specific language to protect seven species groups of forage fish from unregulated harvest and also limit bycatch of these species in existing fisheries. These amendments have already been approved by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in line with Comprehensive Ecosystem-Based Amendment 1.  We ask you to finalize the associated regulations by implementing the Proposed Rule as written.

Submit Electronic Comments: Add your comment by clicking here, then click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.  

Submit Comments by Mail: William W. Stelle, Jr., Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way NE., Seattle, WA 98115-0070; Attn: Yvonne deReynier.

Why Act Now?

Too often fishery managers step in after fish stocks have already been heavily depleted. This is a golden opportunity to set good policies before it is too late. Growing global demand for inexpensive protein drives the call to open new fisheries targeting forage fish, posing a threat to wildlife. 

By weight, forage fish now account for nearly 40 percent of all fish caught worldwide. Only ten percent of this catch is for human consumption  – the other 90 percent goes to feed for livestock, pellets for farmed fish, and fertilizer. By putting protections in place now for the forage fish species covered by the Proposed Rule – species which are not yet targeted off the West Coast – NOAA Fisheries has a great opportunity to proactively safeguard our Pacific Ocean food web and the vibrant marine ecosystems that depend on it. 

Learn More

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