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Fishing for Protection: Move to Secure NC Atlantic Fish Population

Protections have been put in place to protect krill (seen here) and other forage fish, in Mid-Atlantic waters off the U.S. coast. (Tom
Protections have been put in place to protect krill (seen here) and other forage fish, in Mid-Atlantic waters off the U.S. coast. (Tom
August 11, 2016

WILMINGTON, N.C. – The health of many fish off North Carolina's coast could improve, following the approval of a plan this week by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Forage fish are considered the lifeblood of the ocean's food web, yet currently they are unmanaged in U.S. Atlantic waters with no regulations on how much can be caught.

This week the Council voted to change that, setting in motion a proactive plan for protecting more than 50 forage species.

Council chairman Rick Robins says it's an important step for the ecosystem in case of sudden interest in a species not currently targeted by fishermen.

"Right now under the status quo, large-scale fishery for any of these species that we're talking about could develop without any science, without any management plan, without any review by the Council," he states.

The Council's decision covers around 50,000 squares miles of the Atlantic, 3 miles to 200 miles offshore, from New York south to the upper-third of North Carolina.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will make the Council's decision a federal regulation.

Joseph Gordon, who manages ocean conservation in the region for The Pew Charitable Trusts, says the Council is doing the right thing by taking a big picture approach to managing what he calls the unsung heroes of the ocean.

"They provide food for whales, dolphins, seals, seabirds, sharks, billfish,” he explains. “Billions in predators, including ourselves. "

This is the first regulation to address forage fish that haven't been targeted yet in the U.S. Atlantic. Limits were set in U.S. Pacific waters last year and the Mid-Atlantic Council has used similar methodology to place a 1,700 pound limit on the amount of forage fish that can be caught by fishermen on any given trip.

Peter deFur, an environmental biologist and a member of the Council, says krill is a good example of a species near the bottom of the food chain that could benefit from the pro-active protection.

"We want to make sure that the krill that might be in our waters are not being harvested to make fish oil as food supplements because then all the other species that depend on krill are gone," he explains.

The Council passed the forage fish regulations 18-to-1, with one abstention.

The Pew Charitable Trusts provided support for this reporting.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC