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California Assembly votes to protect little fish to sustain wildlife

June 2, 2011 |  8:25 pm

The California Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would enact new protections for small ocean fish at the lower end of the food chain by placing a value on leaving them in the water.

The bill by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), approved on a 44-23 vote, would require state wildlife regulators crafting Fishery Management Plans to consider how many small forage fish such as sardines, anchovies, herring and market squid should be left in the ocean to sustain wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Game traditionally has managed fish species by dividing the catch among recreational and commercial and fishing groups, with no share assigned to marine wildlife that eat them. The bill would require the agency to factor in "ecological services rendered" by small fish, including their role in feeding natural predators.

“Even though they're not the majestic mega-fauna like whales that draw so much attention from people, those smaller fish are a main food source for larger marine mammals and recreationally and commercially important fish species,” said Ashley Blacow, a spokeswoman for the conservation group Oceana, a supporter of the bill.

Backers of the measure, including a coalition of conservationists, some fishing groups and seafood restaurant owners, say leaving more small fish in the ocean could help reverse declines in larger, predator species that feed on them, such as Chinook salmon, rockfish, white sea bass and marine mammals.

If the bill is passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, it would take effect in 2012.


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-- Tony Barboza