[Alaska Sea Grant]

Scientists to Discuss Role of
Marine Forage Fishes

Date: October 24, 1996
Contact: Brenda Baxter, coordinator, 907-474-6701

ANCHORAGE, Alaska--In the annals of scientific research on the world's fish, one thing at least is certain: The big fish eat the little fish.

But what if there where no little fish around for the big fish to eat? That's simple. There would be no big fish, nor would there be sea lions, eagles, bears and other animals that eat fish. Come to think of it, there'd be no people either.

That's because small fish--everything from sardines to herring to shrimp-- occupy a critical niche in the ocean food chain that ultimately ends at the biggest fish of them all--us. And that's why dozens of scientists who study these so-called forage fish will meet in Anchorage next month. There they'll discuss the latest research on the importance of forage fish in the ocean ecosystem.

"We are just now getting a handle on large-scale ecosystem processes, and the exciting thing about this symposium is that it is the first opportunity to get together as concerned scientists," said Robert Meyer, marine studies manager with the Biological Resources Division of the United States Geological Survey.

The four-day International Symposium on the Role of Forage Fishes in Marine Ecosystems will take place at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel beginning November 13. The symposium is part of the Alaska Sea Grant Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium series begun in 1982 in honor of long-time Alaska fisherman and seafood processor Lowell Wakefield.

Scientists will meet to exchange research on how forage fish stocks rise and fall--almost like the tides--and how such things as climate change and commercial fishing affect the stocks and the species that feed on them. The gathering comes as scientists try to explain the dramatic decline in the number of Steller sea lions and seabirds in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.

"There is a belief that changes in forage fish abundance may be contributing to these declines, and people are very much concerned about that," said Alan Springer, a marine scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. "Scientists are trying to understand declines of species like sea lions by learning more about their prey."

The symposium is expected to draw more than 100 scientists from Iceland, Japan, Russia, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Estonia and elsewhere to discuss world trends in forage fish research, predator-prey relationships, biology, management and population dynamics.

For more information, contact Brenda Baxter, coordinator, Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 907-474-6701.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a marine research, education and outreach service headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. It is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

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