2016 Forage Species Report for the Gulf of Alaska
Defining “forage species” can be a difficult task, as most fish species experience predation at some point in their life cycle. A forage fish designation is sometimes applied only to small, energy-rich, schooling fish like sardines and herring (e.g. Lenfest 2012), but in most ecosystems this is too limiting a description. Generally, forage species are those whose primary ecosystem role is as prey and that serve a critical link between lower and upper trophic levels.
Prior to 1998, forage fish in the GOA were either managed as part of the Other Species group (nontarget species caught incidentally in commercial fisheries) or were classified as “nonspecified” in the FMP, with no conservation measures. In 1998 Amendment 39 to the GOA FMP created a separate forage fish category, with conservation measures that included a ban on directed fishing. Beginning in 2011, members of this forage fish group (the “FMP forage group” in this report) are considered “ecosystem components”. The group is large and diverse, containing over fifty species from these taxonomic groups.