Bipartisan bill in US Congress aims to better protect forage fish

Two U.S. senators on Thursday, 29 April, filed a bill that calls on the federal government to increase protections for smaller fish that serve as an essential food source for ecosystems across the country.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) have filed S.1484, called The Forage Fish Conservation Act. The legislation would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to mandate that that the U.S. Secretary of Commerce come up with a definition for forage fish as well as take steps to improve monitoring and management for fish that serve as prey to larger fish, birds, and other mammals.

In a joint statement, Blunt and Blumenthal said the legislation would lead to healthier wildlife communities and help communities that depend on commercial and recreational fishing.

“Small schooling fish like herring, sardines, and anchovies provide essential sustenance to bigger fish, whales, seals, osprey, and other treasured marine wildlife in the Long Island Sound, supporting local economies and recreation,” Blumenthal said. “Many of these small fish are also a key part of the commercial fishing stock, essential to the regional economy.”

In Missouri, recreational fishing is responsible for about 10,000 jobs and has a USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) impact on the state’s economy, Blunt said.

The bill has support from numerous recreational fishing and wildlife organizations, including the American Sportfishing Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, National Marine Manufacturers Association, National Professional Anglers Association, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“It’s an important part of our tourism industry, a boon to local businesses, and a favorite pastime for myself, my family, and so many Missourians,” Blunt said. “This bill will help ensure forage fish populations are where they need to be to keep the recreational and commercial fishing industries thriving.”

Besides the Mississippi River region and Long Island Sound, the bill could have a significant impact on other regions as well.

For years, environmental advocates have pushed for the federal government to set stricter catch limits for northern anchovy along the Pacific Coast. Oceana has taken NOAA Fisheries to court repeatedly on the issue, with a judge ruling last year in the group’s favor.

The government has claimed that anchovy is only a monitored stock, which means it does not get catch limits based on annual surveys. Instead, the limit is set to a quarter of the stock’s overfishing limit.

The National Wildlife Federation in a statement said that current federal laws do not factor the role forage fish play in the ecosystem and makes them vulnerable to overfishing.

“From salmon and snappers to seabirds and whales, the entire ocean food web depends on forage fish,” said Jessie Ritter, the organization’s director of water resources and coastal policy. “Scientific, sustainable management of fisheries will help declining forage fish populations recover and ensure they can support other fish and other wildlife that are critical to anglers and cherished by coastal communities.”

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia


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