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A Big Discussion about Little Fish

June 10, 2011

SPOKANE, Wash. - Little fish will be a big topic this weekend for the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the body that recommends fishing seasons and catch limits for the West Coast.

At its meeting in Spokane, the council will debate whether to develop an ecosystem-based management plan that includes forage fish, the smaller fish on which larger fish depend for food. Bigger fish aren't the only ones that have their eyes on forage fish, says former council member Darrell Ticehurst, who now heads northern California's Coastside Fishing Club, a group of 13,000 sport fishermen. There's a growing commercial market for forage fish as well, he says.

"The major species that are forage fish are squid, sardines, anchovies and herring. There's record levels of harvest for squid and for sardines, and all of those species are targeted, to some extent or another."

Paul Shively, who manages the Pacific Fish Conservation Campaign for Pew Environment Group, says the change would signal a new way of thinking for the 14-member council, which always has managed individual species with the goal of making sure they're not overfished.

"It's an opportunity to begin looking at the role that these smaller-schooling fish play in the marine food web - a new way of management for these smaller fish that are so important to the health of the ocean."

Not everyone is convinced that forage fish are in short supply. Proponents of managing them say the reason to do so is for the long-term health of the ocean and the fishing industry it supports. Washington and Alaska already have taken some steps to protect forage fish, and a bill to do the same is in the California Legislature.

The meeting is at the Doubletree Hotel Spokane City Center, 322 N. Spokane Falls Court.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA