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forage fish

A blueback herring.

River herring spend most of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean. They are anadromous fish species, which means they return to spawn in coastal rivers in the spring. But these small fish are in big trouble. Based on analysis by the National Marine Fisheries Service, their populations have declined more than 98 percent from their historic level.

Atlantic trawler.

Scientists and fishermen agree that the industrial midwater trawl fleet is taking a toll on many species on the Atlantic Coast. The massive nets of these vessels kill millions of river herring and, increasingly, the juveniles of some commercially important groundfish such as haddock. Unfortunately, an important action to rein in this damage is facing a substantial delay.

Pity the lowly herring, an essential species getting little love these days from the government agencies that are supposed to protect them.

Everything eats herring—from whales to striped bass to seabirds. Without abundant herring stocks, the Atlantic food web doesn’t work. That’s why herring protection brings together a diverse coalition of interests that includes recreational and commercial fishermen, conservation groups and whale-watching businesses.

Atlantic menhaden.

On Friday, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission finally responded to sound science and a huge public outcry by imposing the first ever coastwide cap on the catch of a little fish known as the menhaden.

More than 100,000 Americans (including more than 13,000 Earthjustice activists) wrote to the commission demanding protection for a fish that is an essential food source for seabirds, whales, and game fish like the striped bass.

Something very unusual happened at the November 2011 meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The audience broke into applause for what the commisioners did.

They stood up for a fish that H. Bruce Franklin at Rutgers University called “The Most Important Fish in the Sea”—the Atlantic menhaden.

The menhaden is not a lovable, or famous fish. As Franklin describes it:

A special thank you goes out to the thousands of Earthjustice supporters who took action over the last few months by writing to the fishery management councils. Your voices made a huge difference.

After a long struggle, we just concluded two great weeks in the campaign to protect forage fish, some of the most important fish in the sea.

I want to share with you some of the details about what happened.

When you ask a 4-year-old, “What do big fish eat?,” the answer comes easily, “Little fish!”

A new report by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force entitled Little Fish, Big Impact confirms the wisdom of the 4-year-old -- big fish do eat little fish.

Why is this finding significant?

Little fish (forage fish) play an essential role in the marine food web.

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.