Forage Fish

Pelicans on pilings

In the ocean, little fish play a big role.  Small fish like sardines and anchovies are some of the most important fish in the sea.

Fish such as herring, anchovies, menhaden, and sardines feed mostly on plankton all their lives.  They supply calories and nourishment (food!) for many top predators including cod, tuna, salmon, and most other fishes, hundreds of species of seabirds, seals, sharks, dolphins, and whales.

Forage fish are also heavily fished by humans.  These tiny fish currently make up over a third of the wild marine catch.  A whopping ninety percent of this forage fish catch is processed into feeds for fish farms, poultry, and livestock as well as nutritional supplements for people.  If you’re eating farmed animals—you’re eating wild ocean fish.

Like any fish, the small fish that are the sea’s breadbasket can be depleted.  It has happened.  Scientists now recommend cutting forage fish catch in half in many regions.

Trawling—dragging a net wider than a football field between two boats capable of hauling in 500,000 pounds of sea life in one tow—brings forage fishing to an industrial scale.

Leaving forage fish in the water is also worth twice as much as taking them out.  They contribute over $11 billion by serving as food for other wild fish that people later catch and eat.  That’s about double the $6 billion they generate as direct catch.

The good news is that in some places, like the East and West Coasts of the U.S., people are remembering the little guys such as herring, menhaden, sardines, anchovies, and others.

3 ways to help forage fish:

1. Research, get informed about the current state of forage fish in waters near you.
2. If you eat farm-raised fish, choose the fish raised on feed not made from wild forage fish. (Ask your fish monger.)
3. Avoid pet food that contains fish meal

There are many other ways to Make a Difference.


Forage Fish, Pew Herring Alliance
Summary of the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force Report – Lenfest
Forage Fish – Wikipedia

Herring in Dire Need of Protection – Cape Cod Times
Listing the Eulachon as Threatened – NOAA
Out of Balance: Industrial Fishing and Threats to Our Oceans – Pew Environment
Issues of Ecosystem-based Management of Forage Fisheries in “open” Non-stationary Ecosystems: Example of the Sardine Fishery in the Gulf of California – Mendeley
Omega-3s Suppliers Dispute Conclusions of Forage Fish Report – New Hope
Forage Fish 101 – Shore