Forage Fish like Anchovies and Sardines are Vital to the Health of Marine Ecosystems

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

Understanding the major significance of these fish and why they need more attention


Oceans are extremely complex ecosystems that provide habitat and resources for millions of plants and animals. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained or the entire system will begin to fall apart. Forage fish are one of the most important elements for keeping this balance in order.

Forage fish have been defined as, “any fish or invertebrate species that contributes significantly to the diets of other fish, birds, mammals, or sea turtles, or otherwise contributes disproportionately to ecosystem function and resilience due to its role as prey.” Some of the primary species commonly considered to be forage fish are anchovies, sardines, herring, menhaden, krill, and small squid. These small fish swim throughout the oceans in large schools and are a vital source of food for a wide variety of animals.

(MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA) Pacific Sardines are an important forage fish species (Photo: Rick Evans)

Maintaining a healthy abundance of these tiny fish is critical to ensure our oceans remain productive for generations. Some regulations have been set by state and federal agencies to manage a few of these species, but some groups are concerned forage fish aren’t getting proper attention. Organizations like Oceana, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Audubon Society are calling on the regulatory agencies to take a more comprehensive science-based approach to assessing stock sizes that takes the whole ecosystem into account.


Ecological Significance