Paul Engelmeyer knows what’s at stake if the schools of herring and eulachon were to dramatically decline off the Oregon coast. Forage fish like these are the crux of the marine ecosystem here, supporting dozens of seabird species, including tufted puffins, rhinoceros auklets, and the endangered marbled murrelet. Engelmeyer, manager of Portland Audubon’s Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary, says the fish are also a staple for salmon, halibut, and other species. Still, as important as they are, many of them are caught for fishmeal or even just as bycatch.
To protect this vital resource and prevent declines in local populations of all kinds, Engelmeyer helped hatch an ambitious plan nearly a decade ago to safeguard marine areas critical to birds and fish alike. Audubon Portland and other conservation groups successfully rallied the public and convinced politicians to take action. Now the state has a 38-square-mile network of protected waters. Since January fishing and development has been prohibited in four of the five marine reserves, though most include at least one less-restrictive marine protected area. Harvest bans for the fifth site take effect in 2016.
Public input was essential in identifying the sites. “These were areas that had broad support and community buy-in from many stakeholder groups,” including fishermen and recreationalists, says Stacy Galleher of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the reserves.
“We’ve done a lot,” agrees Engelmeyer, who is also Portland Audubon’s coordinator for coastal Important Bird Areas, “but there’s so much more we need to do.” This spring Audubon Portland is recruiting volunteers to monitor seabird colonies inside the reserves, and helping to launch a new ocean literacy program in public schools, educating the next generation about how to ensure there are still plenty of fish in the sea.
For more resources on forage fish, including videos and environmental assesments, visit Audubon Portland's site: http://audubonportland.org/issues/species/sea.
This story originally ran in the May-June 2014 issue as "Cape Crusader."