The Forage Fish Task Force of the Lenfest Ocean Program says these small schooling fish are a key link in marine food webs because they eat plankton and are in turn eaten by larger animals such as penguins, whales, seals, puffins and dolphins.
The small prey fish are also the primary food for many commercially and recreationally valuable fish around North America such as salmon, tuna, striped bass and cod.
The scientists estimate that globally, the forage fish are twice as valuable in the water as in nets, contributing about $11 billion to the global economy by serving as food for other important fish.
That’s more than double the $5.6 billion they currently bring in when caught.
“Around the globe, we’ve seen how removing too many forage fish can significantly affect predators and people who rely on that system’s resources for their livelihoods,” said Dr. Edward D. Houde, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science and task force member.