What are Forage Fish?


Ocean conservation is essential but sometimes difficult to understand. Pew joined forces with cartoonist Jim Toomey, the artist behind “Sherman’s Lagoon,” on 10 animated videos that explain the complicated concepts that guide efforts to protect our oceans.

Visual Glossary of Ocean Terminology – Cartoon crash course

#10 What Are Forage Fish?

Forage fish are small species such as herring, menhaden, and sardines that swim in big schools and feed on plankton. Though tiny, forage fish play a massive role in our ocean’s ecosystem, serving as a critical food source for species ranging from sharks and whales to seals and seabirds.

Watch and learn how the littlest fish make a big difference, and how fisheries leaders can help protect populations from overfishing.

Cartoonist Jim Toomey—whose daily comic strip, Sherman’s Lagoon, is syndicated in more than 250 newspapers in the United States—has joined forces with The Pew Charitable Trusts to illustrate “forage fish” and other terms associated with our oceans.


Forage fish are small fishes such as herring, menhaden, and sardines that swim in big schools and feed on plankton. It’s a massive feeding frenzy with remorseless eating machines gorging on a all-u-can-eat buffet… except everything’s really small.

They’re not much to look at – in fact, they look like they fell out of an ugly tree… and hit every ugly branch on the way down-, but forage fish are a critical food source for a bunch of different species, from sharks and whales, to seabirds, tunas, seals and sea lions. If we take them out of the picture, we could upset the delicate balance of marine ecosystems.

And that’s what could happen if we continue to fish these little guys at an unsustainable rate. Without adequate catch limits, industrial fishing boats can scoop up as many forage fish as they want, grind them up, and send them off to be used in animal feed, cosmetics, fertilizer and other products.

Not only are forage fish themselves threatened, their habitats are in danger too. Pollution, dams, and run-off are destroying their homes.

But these little guys still have hope. Fishery managers can set catch limits to sustain populations and help keep the ocean food web in tact.


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February 10, 2017 |

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