NOAA Proactively Protects Commercial Fishing on Several Species of Forage Fish


April 4, 2016



Jim Milbury, NOAA Fisheries

562-980-4006, 310-245-7114


NOAA Fisheries published in today’s Federal Register a final rule protecting several species of forage fish of the U.S. West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by prohibiting directed commercial fishing on the species.

This rule’s proactive approach restricts the development of fisheries on a number of forage fish species (listed below) off the states of Washington, Oregon and California. The regulations proactively protect species where there is not enough scientific information to assess what impacts a commercial fishery might have on the species, other existing fisheries, fishing communities or the marine ecosystem overall.

“We applaud and strongly support the Pacific Fisheries Management Council for initiating these important conservation efforts that protect fish species vulnerable to future exploitation,” said Will Stelle, NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator for the West Coast Region. “Conservation actions like these illustrate why the United States continues to be a leader in responsibly managing our fishery resources.”

The new regulation does not apply to forage fish like sardines and anchovies, which are federally-managed fisheries operating under a long-established Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  An FMP specifies objectives and measurable criteria for determining when a stock is overfished or when overfishing is occurring, and establishes measures to manage the stock sustainably.

The term, “forage fish” is a general description of smaller fish and invertebrate species found in the lower trophic levels of the food web that play a significant role in the marine ecosystem as prey species for larger fish, marine mammals and seabirds in the larger California Current ecosystem. 

The forage fish protected by these regulations are now considered “ecosystem component” species, which means that, although they are generally not targeted by fishermen, they have ecosystem connections to other FMP species. These regulations do not prohibit the incidental taking of the forage fish listed below during fishing operations covered under a FMP.

There are currently four FMP’s on the West Coast, developed by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), all of which have been approved and implemented by NOAA Fisheries.  The FMP’s are for Coastal Pelagic Species, Pacific Coast Groundfish, Highly Migratory Species and Pacific Coast Salmon.

During the rule-making process this regulation received 63 letters and emails supporting the regulations. Several letters from environmental organizations included petitions supporting the action with signatures or comments from over 90,000 people.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is the primary law governing our marine fisheries managed in federal waters, and this year, we celebrate 40 years since it was first signed into law on April 13, 1976. Since then, the MSA has served as the nation’s road map to sustainably managed fisheries by preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, increasing long-term economic and social benefits, and ensuring a safe and sustainable seafood supply.

Types of forage fish protected by this regulation:

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