Forage Fish: A Crucial Link in Aquatic Ecosystems
Forage fish play a pivotal role in marine ecosystems and economies worldwide by sustaining many predators and fisheries directly and indirectly. The Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force conducted the most comprehensive global analysis of the science and management of forage fish populations to date. This group of 13 pre-eminent scientists used a variety of approaches, including workshops, site visits, a series of nine case studies, review of existing theory and practice, and two quantitative analyses using marine food web models. In the first of these quantitative studies, the task force estimated global forage fish contributions to marine ecosystems through a synthesis of 72 published Ecopath models from around the world. The global catch value of forage fisheries was $5.6 billion, whereas fisheries supported by forage fish were more than twice as valuable ($11.3 billion). In the second quantitative study, the task force used 10 Ecopath with Ecosim models to simulate the effects of various fishing strategies on forage fish and their predators. It found that fishing at FMSY increases the risk of forage fish population collapse seven-fold and more than doubles the average decline in predator populations, relative to a “hockey stick” strategy with fishing mortality limited to 50 percent of FMSY at B0 and declining to zero at or below 40 percent of B0. The task force recommends employing the latter strategy for forage fisheries where sufficient information exists about the target species and its role in marine ecosystems. It also recommends that no new forage fisheries be initiated in low-information situations, whereas more aggressive fishing strategies might be appropriate in data-rich circumstances. This presentation will briefly review the recommendations of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force and their rationale, and provide an update on the implementation of these recommendations to date.