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Water | Environment

Pacific Fishery Managers Take Up Forage Fish Issue

Sockeye salmon.

Sockeye salmon.

Aaron Kunz


BOISE, Idaho – Fishery managers in the Pacific Northwest are no strangers to dealing with threatened species of salmon, steelhead, bull trout and other aquatic life. But those same fishery managers may soon be working on management plans for pacific creatures like herring, sardines and squid.

These small ocean bound species are small in size and gather in schools by the millions. The reason they are important to us here in the Pacific Northwest is because they are food for whales, salmon and steelhead. Humans also use these small oily creatures as additives in hog feed, food for hatchery-raised fish and as bait by fishermen.

Video by Pew Charitable Trust

The role these small creatures known as forage fish play is very important to the health of the entire marine eco-system. That includes Idaho where the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting this week to discuss a wide variety of topics including the management of forage fish.

Steve Marx with the Pew Charitable Trusts says while there is no reason to believe that these forage fish are in danger of extinction. There is no time like the present to start developing a management plan to stave off potential problems in the future. Pew Charitable Trust along with groups like the Northwest Power and Conservation Council are urging the powerful Pacific Fishery Management Council this week to take action.

This forage fish question isn’t new; there has always been a scientific understanding of the important role these small creatures play on the eco-system. You might find yourself wondering why this topic is important to states like Idaho where the ocean is hundreds of miles west.

Forage fish play an important food role for Idaho’s migrating salmon and steelhead. Salmon eat these fish while the salmon are in the Pacific Ocean. Then when they swim back to Idaho between 700 and 800-miles, they stop eating and use only the stored energy from the fat rich forage fish to make the journey.

There is reason to believe that without an abundant supply of forage fish, these salmon won’t have the energy to make the trip back to Idaho. There is further evidence that schools of forage fish provide food for predators like seagulls, harbor seals and larger fish that prey on salmon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council is wrapping up a weeklong meeting and will discuss potential management of forage fish on Monday and Tuesday this week in Boise, Idaho. The public is free to attend the meetings that are being held at the Riverside Hotel on Chinden Boulevard.

_— Aaron Kunz _