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New WWF Report Reveals Small Fish in Big Trouble

03 August 2016

CANADA - WWF-Canada is warning that forage fish are in trouble, following a new assessment of Canadian fisheries.

These small fish are vitally important to starving predators such as whales and seabirds, as well as critical to the recovery of commercial fisheries such as northern cod.

Forage species are small fish, such as herring and capelin. They are among the most abundant in the ocean by mass. They are an important source of food for a range of predators.

Some species, such as humpback whales, minke whales, and harbour seals, depend on forage fish for 75 per cent of their food. These small fish are very susceptible to environmental changes and are vulnerable to overfishing because they congregate in shoals so are easy to catch even when the stock is declining.

“Populations of large predators like humpback whales, along with seabirds and commercial species such as cod, will never recover if they don’t have enough food to eat,” David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada notes.

“It’s shocking that many of these fisheries are being managed without adequate information about the stocks. WWF Canada’s report demonstrates that there is a lot of work to be done, protecting the forage fish that underpin the health of our ocean ecosystems.”

Assessing 27 fisheries against 9 criteria, the WWF-Canada report determined:

  • Three fisheries are in critical condition in Atlantic Canada: two herring stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Atlantic mackerel. Another fishery of concern is the herring in southwest Nova Scotia/Bay of Fundy.
  • In 75 per cent of the fisheries assessed, the stock status is unknown, including all capelin fisheries, and all the fisheries in British Columbia.
  • In all cases, fisheries management does not sufficiently account for predator needs.
  • The effects of the environment and climate change on forage fish are largely unknown.

WWF-Canada are seeking to take a multi-pronged approach to ensuring forage fish sustainability:

  • Secure food for starving predators including beluga and humpback whales, seabirds and northern cod
  • Modernise fisheries management to account for the needs of multiple species
  • Strengthen eco-certification of forage fish fisheries
  • Find alternatives to using forage fish as bait in commercial fisheries such as lobster
  • Protect spawning beaches for commercial and non-commercial forage fish.


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