What are forage fish?
Forage fish are small to medium size marine species that are eaten by many marine predators, including seabirds, whales, and large fish like tuna and cod. Humpback whales, minke whales and harbour seals depend on forage fish for 75 per cent of their food. Some of the best-known forage fish species in our waters are herring, capelin and mackerel.
Forage fish are in trouble
Forage fish are found in all of Canada’s three oceans. They are vulnerable to environmental changes and overfishing. (Because they congregate in shoals, they’re easy to catch even when the stock is declining.)
Many fisheries in Canada target forage fish for food products like smoked or pickled herring, for instance, or to use as bait for other fisheries, such as lobster. In 2016, WWF-Canada released a report on Canada’s forage fisheries, Food for all, which warns that for three-quarters of Canadian forage fish fisheries, the status of the fish stock is unknown. This means that decisions are being made on how many fish can be caught without knowing how many fish there are.
Food for All revealed that three forage fish fisheries are in critical condition in Atlantic Canada, and in all cases the needs of predators are not taken into account in the fishery management.
What WWF-Canada is doing
We’re looking out for “the little guys,” because without them, there won’t be enough food for already hungry predators, including beluga and humpback whales, seabirds and Atlantic cod. Our activities include:
- working with our partners to modernize fisheries management to account for the needs of multiple species;
- strengthening eco-certification of forage fish fisheries;
- finding alternatives to using forage fish as bait in lobster fisheries;
- protecting spawning beaches for forage fish.
How you can helpIf you live or visit the shores of Quebec and Atlantic provinces, become a citizen scientist by reporting capelin sightings to the Capelin Observers Network, a crowdsourcing application that tracks capelin spawning.