April 3, 2017 — A new study has been published today by a scientific group led by University of Washington fisheries researcher Ray Hilborn that disputes previous findings on the impact of human and natural predation on forage fish such as anchovies, sardines and herring.
The study, published in the scientific journal Fisheries Research, found that human fishing for forage fish does not have as great an impact on the food chain as previously thought, given that humans typically catch fish of much larger size than those typically hunted and eaten by non-human species. The study also decouples the link between the size of forage fish populations and the populations of species that predate on forage fish.
“What we found is that there is essentially no relationship between how many forage fish there are in the ocean and how well predators do in terms of whether the populations increase or decrease,” Hilborn said in a video explaining the study’s findings.
The study was co-authored by the University of Washington’s Ricardo O. Amoroso and Eugenia Bogazzi, Olaf P. Jensen of Rutgers University, Ana M. Parma of the Centro Nacional Patagónico, Cody Szuwalski of the University of California Santa-Barbara and Carl J. Walters of the University of British Columbia. It was funded in part by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities and was supported by the IFFO, the marine ingredients trade group.
It takes particular fault with the methods used by a 2012 study on forage fish by the Lenfest Ocean Program, which is managed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“The Lenfest conclusion that predators rise and fall with their prey populations is simply not true. It’s not empirically true,” Walters, one of the authors of the original Lenfest study, said. “One of the things we did in this study was collect together a lot of time-series patterns of predator abundances and forage-fish abundances, and we just didn’t see the correlation, nor have other scientists who have looked at this objectively.”
Predators “have developed some strategy of how to cope with the natural variability” of forage fish populations, according to Amoroso, the study’s second author.