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
- 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
Already pressured by a steady loss of habitat, many of Florida’s imperiled and iconic coastal waterbirds are vulnerable to declines in small fish that are necessary for their survival, according to a report by Audubon Florida and The Pew Charitable Trusts.More
In this report, we investigate an area of growing concern for these birds: how declines in populations of forage fish in Florida’s coastal waters could exacerbate declines of seabirds, wading birds, and other fish-eating birds, particularly species of conservation concern such as Least Terns and Black Skimmers.More
On Oct. 10, 2013, Holly Binns, director, U.S. oceans, Southeast, sent the following letter to the Menhaden Advisory Committee of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission regarding the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 32A for Gulf menhaden and the establishment of appropriate biological reference points and management goals.More