Save the Bait Balls!

A new rule for the Pacific will protect many of its little swimmers.

March 11, 2015

Among the earth's most spectacular natural phenomena is a feeding frenzy around a bait ball (see video). Marine fauna of all stripes—birds, sharks, squid, rays, fish, dolphins, and whales—get together to feast on schools of tiny silver swimmers called forage fish. And because they are so important to so much sea life, those little fishies just got a big boost from the government. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal agency that oversees West Coast fisheries, decided yesterday to outlaw hauling seven types of forage fish to shore.

Sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and others already account for more than one-third of the global catch each year, and demand is on the rise (humans love to grind up these guys for fish-oil pills and fishmeal for farmed salmon and our cats). 

If approved, the rule wouldn’t apply to existing fisheries. So sorry, Pacific sardines, your plummeting populations may continue to spiral and spin and spiral until that huge whale of extinction suddenly appears and gobbles you up.

Illustration by the Pew Charitable Trusts

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