I thought I was doing the right thing for my garden this summer with a little boost of all-purpose fertilizer. My garden is mostly drought-tolerant (save water!) flowering plants (feed the bees and butterflies!) mixed in with some garden vegetables (secure our local food supply!). This fertilizer is distributed by Down to Earth (eco-friendly!) in Eugene, Oregon (go Pacific Northwest!) and I bought this quart at my local co-op grocery (buy local!) in a recyclable container (save the Earth!). However...I didn't read the fine print.
The main source of all this goodness for my plants comes from fish meal. This meal is not made from "unwanted" fish parts leftover after fish sticks are formed, but from whole small fish known as "schooling fish" or "forage fish." These include herring, anchovies, sardines, sand lance, smelts, saury, menhaden, and others that you don't see on dinner tables (but get picked off of pizza or taken canned on camping trips). These forage fish live in oceans around the globe and are suffering huge population declines from over-harvesting.
How much "fish emulsion" is the world using on their petunias? Garden fertilizer is just one application--but one we can easily do without. It's harder to get forage-fish-based food out of our diets and our pet's diets. Forage fish are ground into meal for industrial-scale aquaculture (farm-raised salmon are fed red-dyed pellets made from fish meal, for instance), pig feed, cow food, pet foods, fish-oil supplements for humans.
What's the big deal about these little fish? They are critical in all marine ecosystems. They are a major, energy-rich source of food for larger fish, marine mammals, and marine birds (including the marbled murrelet). Depletion of forage fish triggers population declines in the rest of the food web; seabirds starve, cannot successfully breed, and cannot feed their chicks.
The conservation community--particularly national, state, and local Audubon Society chapters--are bringing the issue of forage fish to the forefront, with a focus on ensuring adequate supplies of forage fish for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway.
HOW TO HELP: The Pacific Marine Fishery Council is accepting public comments for its September 2014 meeting. The final deadline is Sept. 3 to submit your comments (it's fine to cut and paste these, below!). Please send an email thanking the Council for its work to protect currently unmanaged forage fish and asking it to move forward by:
- Incorporating unmanaged forage fish as ecosystem component species into each of its existing fishery management plans.
- Setting a limit on the amount of unmanaged forage fish that may be taken in existing fisheries for groundfish and other species.
Submit your letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information and resources from Audubon Washington on this important issue, please click here.
If you live on the Atlantic Coast, read about what's in your fertilizer (menhaden!) here.