Audubon Backs New Bill to Bolster Small Fish That Struggling Seabirds Need to Survive

The bipartisan legislation would help ocean ecosystems and the economies that depend on them.

Washington, DC – “Each summer I watch the Atlantic Puffins when they bring fish home to their chicks. When parent puffins can’t find enough herring and other important fish, though, their chicks suffer and sometimes starve, casualties of warming oceans and over fishing. These human imposed threats are decimating forage fish and an entire food chain – one that includes humans. Audubon is glad to see Congress moving to restore these fish populations,” said Dr. Stephen Kress, Executive Director of the Seabird Restoration Program and Vice president for Bird Conservation at National Audubon Society. “There are many reasons that seabird numbers are down 70 percent in the last 70 years. If we can stabilize and rebuild their food supply, it will go a long way towards helping them recover.”

Today, Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Representative Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced the Forage Fish Conservation Act. It amends the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law that governs ocean fish management in U.S. federal waters through eight regional fishery management councils, to include forage fish (e.g. herring, anchovy, sardine, krill and some small crustaceans) for the first time.

“This is exactly what we need, an evidence based approach to maintaining healthy forage fish populations,” said Dr. Karen Hyun, Vice President for Coastal Conservation at National Audubon Society. “It is hard to overstate the importance of these little critters for all of us. They are key building blocks of the ocean ecosystem. If there aren’t enough anchovies or herring, then there aren’t enough tuna or salmon. Fishing communities take a big hit, as do all the economies built around the oceans and coasts including sport fishing and wildlife watching, which generate billions of dollars a year between them.”

“Seabirds like Osprey and Caspian Tern make the Great Lakes their home during the summer breeding season. These birds inspire us as they soar and dive along our region’s blue waters. But for them to make it here, they must have abundant forage fish during the winter months and arduous migration,” said Rebeccah Sanders, Audubon Vice President for the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Flyway. “I would like to thank Congresswoman Dingell for her conservation leadership in recognizing how important forage fisheries are to these breathtaking birds. By protecting their primary food source, we’re also helping fishing communities.”

Specifically, the legislation:

  • Provides a national definition for forage fish, which are not currently defined in the MSA;
  • Limits new fishing of currently unmanaged forage species until the impact on existing fisheries, fishing communities and the marine ecosystem is assessed;
  • Directs fishery managers to account for predator (e.g. seabirds, larger fish and sea mammals) needs in their existing management plans for forage fish;
  • Specifies that councils consider forage fish when establishing research priorities;
  • Ensures the scientific guidance for fishery managers includes forage fish recommendations;
  • Requires conservation and management of river herring and shad in the ocean.

This legislation, like the recently introduced Albatross and Petrel Protection Act, will help seabirds recover.

It is especially important to manage fisheries for seabirds and other marine wildlife in this time of climate change. Rising ocean levels and shifts in the availability of food are devastating the nesting success of puffins and many other cold-water seabirds. Higher seas mean fewer of the sandy and rocky surfaces where seabirds nest, limiting their ability to reproduce. Warmer and more acidic water means less abundant food sources and more risk for seabirds who must travel further and deeper to find food.

“It is well established that when forage fish are fished at sustainable levels, seabirds thrive,” said Kress. “Seabirds face stiff competition for these little fish from large scale commercial fishing operations. But history shows that when we manage our fisheries intelligently, there is enough to go around. This legislation is critical for saving the little fish that have a huge benefit for puffin and other seabirds.”

Read about Audubon’s ongoing work saving seabirds:

Read about Dr. Kress’s Project Puffin:

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at and @audubonsociety.


Media Contact: Anne Singer, 202-271-4679,