The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted at its meeting last week to initiate an action that would protect unmanaged species of forage fish in the Mid-Atlantic. This action would place restrictions on the development or expansion of directed fisheries on these fish.
Forage fish are small, low trophic level fish that play a central role in the marine food chain. These species facilitate the transfer of energy to higher trophic levels by consuming very small prey, such as zooplankton, and then being eaten by larger predator fish and other marine animals. Forage fish also serve a broader role in sustaining the productivity and structure of marine ecosystems.
Given the importance of forage fisheries to the productivity of many commercially and recreationally valuable species, the Council has become increasingly interested in management options to protect unmanaged forage species. “The Northeast region has previously experienced rapid expansions, and subsequent collapses, of fisheries that were not managed or assessed,” said the Council’s Chairman, Rick Robins. “In some cases this resulted in a suite of economic, social, and ecological consequences.”
As part of the Council’s ongoing development of a Guidance Document to support Ecosystem Approaches to Fisheries Management (EAFM) the Council is preparing a series of policy white papers on a range of issues. The Council has identified forage species and their management as a key area of focus, and during last week’s meeting the Council received a presentation on forage species and recommendations on management approaches that the Council could consider.
After extensive discussion, the Council voted unanimously to initiate a regulatory action to prohibit the development of new, or expansion of existing, directed fisheries on unmanaged forage species until adequate scientific information is available to promote ecosystem sustainability.
“This initiative recognizes that forage species play a uniquely important role in marine ecosystems,” said Chairman Robins. “We recognize that the potential development of fisheries for forage species will require a proactive and orderly management approach to ensure the sustainability of these ecologically important species.”