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Pack of Fish

Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force

IOCS, with support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, convened the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, a group of distinguished interdisciplinary scientists with collective expertise in marine ecology, fisheries science, oceanography, marine mammals, seabirds, forage fish populations, ecosystem modeling, and fisheries management. 


This expert panel was the first to comprehensively study the best available science on forage fish and conduct new and cutting-edge modeling to understand how fishing pressure affects both forage fish and predator populations. After rigorous synthesis, modeling, case study examples, and discussion, the Task Force developed a first-of-its-kind set of practical management recommendations that take into account the ecological role of forage fish when setting catch limits. 


Task Force Members

​Task Force Members: Back Row: Dr. Marc Mangel, Dr. Eva Plaganyi-Lloyd, Dr. Tim Essington, Dr. Philippe Cury, Dr. Ian L. Boyd, Dr. Daniel Pauly. Front Row: Dr. David Conover, Dr. Robert Steneck , Dr. Selina Heppell, Dr. Edward Houde, Dr. Keith Sainsbury, ​Dr. P. Dee Boersma, Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch.

Task Force Findings

After four years of dedicated work, the task force produced a comprehensive and detailed report entitled “Little Fish, Big Impact,” along with a short Executive Summary


In the report, the Task Force reviewed the biological and ecological characteristics of forage fish, outlined lessons learned, and presented nine case studies from around the globe. The Task Force also produced original analyses that included: 


  • Measuring the dietary importance of forage fish to marine predators 

  • Calculating the economic value of forage fish catch globally

  • Publication that estimated and compared the global contribution of forage fish to marine species and ecosystems

  • Estimating the economic value of forage fish to other commercial fisheries that depend on forage fish for food (for example, striped bass)

  • Testing how different forage fish harvest strategies affect both the forage fish population and the predators that depend on those fish. 

Notably, the Task Force highlighted the issue of tradeoffs that occur between direct harvest of forage fish, the harvest of larger commercial species that depend on forage fish for food, and wildlife that depends on forage fish for their diets. 


One of the most impactful recommendations of the Task Force is that the management of forage fish should vary with the level of information known about the forage fish population and the dependent predators in the ecosystem, giving specific examples and guidance.

In the ten years since the Task Force released its work, several U.S. states have adopted more of a precautionary approach to managing forage fish, and a bill called the Forage Fish Conservation Act has been introduced into the U.S. Congress. In the Mid-Atlantic, management authorities are now using an ecosystem-based approach for the predominant forage species there, Atlantic menhaden.

A video highlighting the recommendations from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force.

Read the Report

The Global Contribution of Forage Fish to Marine Fisheries and Ecosystems

In this peer-reviewed research, members of IOCS and the Task Force report on the economic findings of "Little Fish, Big Impact" (featured above). We estimated the value of global forage fish catch to be $5.6 billion, and the value of the fisheries supported by forage fish to be over twice as valuable!


Broader Takeaways

There are many nuanced findings in the Task Force report but there are also broader takeaways: 


  • Many marine wildlife species are moderately (>50%) or highly (>75%) dependent on forage fish for their survival; when forage fish decline, they decline. 

  • Globally, forage fish are more valuable economically as prey than as direct catch. 

  • On average, cutting the rate of forage fishing in half and leaving twice as many forage fish in the water as a “buffer” leads to better outcomes for both forage fish and their predators. 

  • Spatial and temporal considerations must be considered when managing forage fish because they are not uniform across space or season. 


Press Coverage







EBFM is a relatively new direction for fishery management, essentially reversing the order of priorities so that management starts with the ecosystem instead of the target species. We found that the potential benefits of implementing of EBFM far outweigh the difficulties of transitioning from current management.

Ecosystems Based Fisheries Management

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