To Save Salmon, Attention Turns to Little Fish

By Tom Bacon

West Coast fishery managers are beginning to think that to save the big fish - salmon - they should concentrate on the little fish that are now mostly ignored.

A new draft ecological plan from the Pacific Fishery Management Council emphasizes the need to manage so-called forage fish to conserve and restore salmon runs.

The council is made up of federal and state wildlife officials from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

The group proposes throwing out the old traditional method of trying to manage salmon runs on a species-by-species approach, and instead, focus on crucial protein sources for the big fish - that is, small schooling species such as sardines, saury and smelt.

The idea is to manage the small fry so that the big, valuable salmon have better food supplies.

Tim Roth, who works for the federal Columbia River Fisheries Program in Vancouver Washington, said the proposal highlights an overlooked path to boosting salmon and other marine wildlife populations.

He sees it as a move toward a broader ecosystem-based management plan to mesh the broad complexities of species and how they interact. Roth said that if the draft plan is adopted at a meeting next month in Portland, it might lead to lower salmon catches, at least initially, until the relationship of the little fish to the big fish is better understood.

The Fisheries Council has no legal authority, but its policies are often adopted by regulatory agencies.
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