Sardines and Anchovy: Prey Species on Your Plate

Oceana has brilliantly proposed a single question in their newest report Hungry Oceans: “What happens when the prey species are gone?” While most ocean conservationists are taking a serious look at the impact commerical fishing is having on the large predatory fish (like say bluefin tuna) we’ve forgotten that many of the largest fisheries – Oceana’s stats say 7 out of 10 in the United States – are based on prey items from the ocean. The familiar menhaden, pollock, capelin, anchovy, anchoveta, sardines, krill and other lower-food-chain residents are some of the most commonly caught food items for humans.

And if we’re eating them, then their natural predators out in the ocean aren’t. Oceana’s primer takes a hard look at some of the known relationships between overfishing and seabirds, marine mammals, and open ocean predators. In addition, they highlight some of the contributing factors – like climate change, El Nino patterns, natural population cycles, and the aquaculture industry – that add to the concern.

Oceana also proposes some fixes at the end of their document, many of which seem entirely tenable, if we can just convince other people to jump on board. All this of course rings bells in my head about Dr. Earle’s call for more MPAs. If MPAs can boost the local populations of larvae for commerically fished whelk, then hopefully it can help us stabilize fisheries – and especially prey fisheries – that fuel protected and endangered species within our seas.