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Bisbees Conservation Journal Q2 2015

Forage fish are small to medium-sized, schooling species (eg., anchovies, pinfish, herring, scad, menhaden, mullet, and sardines) that play a critical role in marine ecosystems by transferring energy up to larger fish, marine mammals, and birds who prey on them. Forage fish also account for a third of global marine catches and are processed as feed for fish farms, livestock, as well as nutritional supplements. However, forage fish have recently become an increasingly hot topic in the United States after new studies revealed how dependent predators are on forage fish abundance. Forage fish experience natural fluctuations in abundance and because they also school together in high densities, they are easily targeted by commercial vessels which, together, can compound any declines in their abundance. In 2012, The Lenfest Ocean Program published a study that documented that in a variety of marine ecosystems, there are a large percentage of predators whose diets depend greatly on forage fish abundance. As such, when forage fish abundance declines, there are also concomitant declines in predator abundance. The study also compared the global value of the direct catch for forage fish with the value of allowing them to remain in the ocean as prey for other valuable fish. What was found was that the direct value of commercial forage catch equaled $5.6 billion USD and their supportive value was much higher, totaling $11.3 billion USD. With this new information on the importance of forage fish to marine predators, it is imperative that we manage them so that there enough left in the ocean to fulfill the dietary needs of recreationally and commercially important species. Currently, IGFA is partnering with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Pew Charitable Trusts in an effort to work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to find constructive means of improving forage fish data collection and management in Florida. With more than 2,000 miles of shoreline and 11,000 miles of waterways, Florida has the largest economic impact from recreational fishing than any other state. With over three million anglers generating over $5 billion USD in retail sales, it’s easy to see why people call Florida the Fishing Capital of the World. Florida’s economy and healthy marine environment rely on forage fish abundance and therefore, the need for proactive management is vital. BISBEE’S CONSERVATION JOURNAL Q2 • 2015 31


Bisbees Conservation Journal Q2 2015
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