Commercial and recreational fishermen don't always see eye to eye. We are passionate about our interests, especially when it comes to divvying up the catch of popular species such as salmon, tuna and halibut.
Yet there is plenty of common ground between those who fish for a living and those who do it purely for enjoyment. All of us want to make sure we leave healthy and robust populations of food fish that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. And we all understand the importance of forage in the ocean: Big fish eat little fish.
As executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and as a former chairman and longtime member of Coastside Fishing Club, we have long supported protections for the small prey fish that feed bigger animals and sustain a productive marine food web here on the California coast.
That's why we are urging the Pacific Fishery Management Council to forestall the harvest of forage species that aren't currently being fished, when they discuss this issue Saturday in San Mateo.
This pre-emptive action creates no winners or losers, and it would provide time for the council to develop an ecosystem management plan capable of determining how any future proposals to expand the catch of prey fish would affect other fish and the marine environment.
When it comes to forage fish, we believe it makes sense to act carefully.
Small schooling species such as herring and anchovies are the lifeblood of a healthy ocean, transferring energy in the form of protein from plankton at the base of the food web to predators at the top. The more forage fish that are in the ocean, the more feed for higher-order species.
More feed means more fish and bigger, healthier species such as salmon, tuna, billfish, white bass, sablefish and halibut, along with seabirds and marine mammals all a part of a rich and diverse array of marine life that distinguishes the West Coast from many other parts of the world.
Many fishermen support historic fisheries on some common forage species such as sardine, squid, anchovy and herring. We believe that we should maximize the value of forage fish that are already being caught by encouraging human consumption as well as traditional use as bait.
However, most of the world's catch of forage fish does not end up on a dinner plate or even on a hook.
A new report from the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force noted that even though forage fish account for more than a third of the world's marine fish landings, most go toward secondary purposes such as feeding livestock, poultry and farmed fish. The task force, which included 13 pre-eminent scientists from around the world, concluded that forage fish are worth twice as much in the water as they are in the net solely because of the commercial value they add to food fish such as salmon, tuna and cod. Further, the task force recommended holding off the harvest of forage fish that we know little or nothing about.
There is good reason to act now to protect currently unfished forage species, such as saury, sand lance and various smelts.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council's draft ecosystem plan cites the "spectacular growth" of the global aquaculture industry as raising the likelihood for unregulated harvest of many species of forage fish. Pulling large volumes of prey out of a productive marine environment here on the Pacific Coast and handing them over as feed for farmed fish fails to achieve the highest economic or ecological value for these fish.
Before we allow the lifeblood of a healthy ocean to seep away as low-grade feed for fish farms overseas, we should make sure we're leaving enough prey in the water to sustain robust and plentiful populations of salmon, tuna and halibut here on the Pacific Coast.
We can all agree on that.