Opinion: To protect seabirds, pass the Forage Fish Conservation Act
Recently, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report explaining the devastating impacts of climate change on the ocean and the wildlife that depend on it. With “high confidence,” the report states: “It is virtually certain that the global ocean has warmed unabated since 1970.” As the managing director for Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society, I can tell you this is bad news for birds.
Seabirds, like the federally and state-endangered roseate tern, nest on land and forage at sea. As the ocean absorbs excess carbon dioxide and heat from the atmosphere, the chemistry of ocean water changes and oxygen becomes less available. This can negatively affect plankton, which are crucial to seabirds’ main prey: forage fish.
Common and roseate terns, among other common Long Island Sound-based birds such as osprey, northern gannet, gulls and cormorants, depend on forage fish to survive and raise their young. But forage fish populations are declining and shifting in range, moving northward and deeper to colder water as ocean’s warm. Thus, seabirds have to expend more energy foraging and they may not find enough nutritious fish for their young. In the saddest cases, this could lead to chick mortality.
Science tells us what we need to do — it’s time for action. We’ve been here before in Connecticut. In the late 1960s, our osprey population decreased so dramatically as a result of DDT that by 1974 there were fewer than 10 active nests in the state. Our communities joined together in conservation action, and there are more than 700 active nests in Connecticut today.
To protect seabirds, we need to pass the Forage Fish Conservation Act. This bipartisan bill amends the Magnuson-Stevens Act to highlight forage fish as prey, and directs fisheries managers to account for predator needs when making decisions about how many forage fish can be caught.
With forage fish management that takes birds and other predators in the food chain into account — and research to better understand shifts in fish populations — we may be able to give our wildlife a fighting chance.
I urge my fellow Connecticut residents, and our lawmakers, to speak up for birds that depend on healthy oceans and estuaries like Long Island Sound to survive. Passing the Forage Fish Conservation Act could help essential fish populations rebound and become more stable for the seabirds and other marine wildlife, people and economies that depend on them.
Leslie Kane is managing director of Audubon Connecticut.