The Pacific Fishery Management Council took another big step toward managing west coast fisheries with a view to how they affect the broader marine ecosystem and how changes in the environment affect fisheries management.
At its June 22-26 meeting in San Mateo, California, the Council reviewed a draft Pacific Coast Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) for adoption in early 2013 and approved the outline for an Annual State of the California Current Ecosystem Report. In related action, the Council adopted a strategy for prohibiting new fisheries for unmanaged forage species until they can be managed consistent with new ecosystem science and policies.
"We've worked with the council for years to develop the FEP and ecosystem status report, which together will inform future fishery management decisions on such important issues as maintaining a healthy forage base," says National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) president Ken Hinman who submitted written testimony and testified before the council during the June meeting. "While the ability of the existing forage base to meet ecosystem needs is still unknown, postponing development of new fisheries for currently unfished prey is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it."
NCMC commended the council for the progress it's made on the FEP, which will be a strategic and informational document that will enhance management decisions made under the councils existing fishery management plans (FMPs). Hinman reinforced the need for indicators of ecosystem health to assess the relative condition of species groups or trophic communities that are not assessed in FMPs such as the Coastal Pelagic Species (sardine, mackerel, squid and anchovy) plan. He cited the report of a 2011 national workshop of regional fishery management council scientific advisors who recommended that establishing optimum productivity or abundance indices for different levels of the food chain better serve ecosystem needs than current species-specific practices. The council supported this idea.
While the initial FEP is completed by next March (it is a living document that will be continually added to and improved upon), the council declared its intent to actively oppose any new fishing on unfished forage fish and eventually amend the CPS and/or other FMPs to incorporate these protections. "The importance of this decision is that it recognizes the need to consider unmanaged as well as managed species in an ecosystems approach, and the need to shift the burden of proof onto those who would develop new fisheries when the science isn't there to support it," says NCMC's Hinman.