From whales and dolphins to red snapper and seabirds, the survival of important marine wildlife depends on small schooling fish. These oil-rich species known as forage fish are a critical link in the ocean food web. But these largely unfamiliar prey species have not been adequately monitored or managed, and fishing regulations do not explicitly account for their value as a crucial food source for important predators.
The need to conserve these fish, which include mullet, menhaden, sardines, and anchovies, is growing increasingly urgent in the Southeast. Mullet have dwindled to as low as 25 percent of historic levels. The percentage of Atlantic menhaden that live longer than a year before being caught has plummeted to less than 10 percent of historic levels—a record low. Despite these losses, hundreds of millions of menhaden are still hauled in and ground up each year, mostly for use in fertilizer, pet food and feed for agricultural animals and farm-raised fish.
A shortage of prey can leave some animals with compromised diets. Such disruption sends unhealthy ripple effects throughout the ocean ecosystem.
Developing a new approach—one that balances the needs of the marine system as a whole—will conserve the prey base that is vital for a healthy ocean. Protecting prey is fundamental to rebuilding depleted fish populations, conserving marine animals and enhancing fishing opportunities.
- Lee Crockett, Director, U.S. Oceans
- Holly Binns, Director, U.S. Oceans, Southeast
- Aaron Podey, Senior Associate, U.S. Oceans, Southeast
- Sharon McBreen, Senior Associate, U.S. Oceans, Southeast
- Chad Hanson, Senior Associate, U.S. Oceans, Southeast
- Terican Gross, Administrative Assistant, U.S. Oceans, Southeast
- Debbie Salamone, Officer, Communications, 321.972.5020
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Often known as "the most important fish in the sea," Atlantic menhaden play a vital role in the marine ecosystem from Maine to Florida. These fish, which barely reach a foot long, are a critical source for wildlife and valuable fish species. Yet their number has plummeted to a record low.More
Sometimes the environmental challenges facing our oceans seem so large that it's hard to know where to start solving them. Over the past several months, however, a collection of conservationists, anglers and others have come together to urge federal policymakers to safeguard the array of species that serve as the foundation for a healthy marine ecosystem.More