With support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University convened the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force (Task Force), a panel of thirteen preeminent marine and fisheries scientists from around the world. These scientists collectively have expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including marine ecology, fisheries science, oceanography, ecosystem modeling, and fishery management. This distinguished panel is the first to issue broad, precautionary management recommendations for forage fish that take into account their ecological role. Over the last three years, the Task Force undertook a comprehensive examination of the science and management of forage fish populations, and conducted original research and synthesis to support their scientific advice.
The goal of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force is to develop a more holistic, ecosystem-based approach to the management of forage fisheries globally. Because forage fish – which include anchovies, menhaden, and sardines – play an integral role in complex marine food webs, management plans must begin to take into account their predators, prey, and environment. Current management generally doesn’t take into account the distinctive ecological role these fish play in marine ecosystems. A primary challenge for fisheries managers and policymakers is to determine a level of catch that accounts for the important ecological role that forage fish play in the larger marine environment. The Task Force was created to address this challenge and develop science-based recommendations for the management of forage fish.
An ecosystem-based management approach for forage fishes requires a more nuanced understanding and representation of food web dynamics and environmental factors. In developing its recommendations, the Task Force reviewed existing principles that have been used in managing forage fisheries and examined current applications around the world. The Task Force also examined the latest scientific research and key case studies to develop operational, ecosystem-based standards for global forage fish management. The Task Force was not created to advocate for or against any particular fishery, rather, it aims to address scientific questions that can lead to better management. Its goal is to advance the scientific discussion on forage fish, and provide credible guidance to policy makers, managers, and fishery council members.
Some critical questions the Task Force examined include:
- How do forage fish interact with other species, and respond to environmental conditions?
- What is the impact of forage fish removals on predator species who feed on them? How can quantitative models be used to inform an ecosystem-based management approach?
- How much are forage fish worth economically as “support” to other fisheries?
- What tools are most effective for a managing forage fish?
- What steps can managers take if they lack important scientific data on forage fish populations or their dependent predators?