In late April, the recreational fishing and boating community applauded introduction of the Forage Fish Conservation Act by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) which if passed in Congress would require that the role forage fish play in the marine ecosystem be accounted for when federal fisheries managers set catch limits on these small but important fish.
“Implementing responsible conservation practices for forage fish is essential to the long-term wellbeing of marine ecosystems and we thank Senators Richard Blumenthal and Roy Blunt for addressing this critical issue,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Healthy and sustainable forage fish and sportfish stocks are equally important to the recreational boating and fishing community and this measure is a major step toward protecting both of these critical populations.”
“For years, the recreational fishing community has advocated for better conservation of our nation’s forage fish populations because a healthy forage base fuels healthy sportfish populations,” said Mike Leonard, vice president of Government Affairs for the American Sportfishing Association. “We commend Sens. Blumenthal and Blunt for their commitment to strengthening the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act with these science-based forage fish conservation measures.”
In 2014, the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, chaired by Bass Pro Shops Founder and CEO Johnny Morris and Maverick Boat Group Founder Scott Deal, released a report identifying key policy changes to the federal marine fisheries management system to benefit fisheries conservation and public access. One of the six key recommendations of that report was improving management and conservation of forage fish.
“Forage fish are experiencing unprecedented fishing pressure to help satisfy the world’s growing demand for protein, being used for everything from feeding farmed fish and livestock to fertilizer. However, research shows that forage fish are worth over twice as much in the ecosystem by supporting stocks of more popular food fish and recreational game fish,” said Dr. Guy Harvey, chairman of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. “We thank Sens. Blumenthal and Blunt for working on this issue, and we encourage Congress to quickly approve this valuable, science-based legislation.”
“It is critical that we pay more attention to the tiniest of fish in our oceans because they are the base of the food chain and essential to the success of America’s blue economy,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Sportfishing Policy. “We thank Sens. Blumenthal and Blunt for reaching across the aisle to tackle this important conservation issue.”
In a press release issued by the above listed groups, it was noted that forage fish provide food for nearly all recreationally important fish species, as well as seabirds and other marine life. Meanwhile, human demand for these nutrient-rich species continues to increase. According to the recreational fishing and boating groups, the Magnuson-Stevens Act is not currently designed to account for the unique role of forage fish in the marine ecosystem, instead relying on traditional single-species management approaches.
As such, the Forage Fish Conservation Act would require that the impacts on fish populations and the marine ecosystem be considered before allowing harvest on any currently unmanaged forage species, and that predator needs be accounted for in existing management plans for forage fish.