Populations of small pelagic fish (SPF) such as sardine, anchovy, herring, capelin, mackerel, and others provide about 25% of the total annual yield of capture fisheries, and the well-being of many coastal communities around the world, particularly in developing countries, depends critically on these resources. In 1983, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) organized an international symposium titled “The Expert Consultation to Examine Changes in Abundance and Species Composition of Neritic Fish Resources” in San José, Costa Rica (FAO Fisheries Report 291, 1983). The symposium was a major success and inspired many research efforts on SPF for the next three decades. It was the first time many of those attending the symposium were confronted with the phenomenon of SPF population abundances varying synchronously, between close to extinct populations and extremely high abundances, in many unconnected regions of the global ocean. This is a phenomenon we are still attempting to understand, as the distances between the small pelagic stocks are large, atmospheric and ocean connections are weak and unclear, and mechanisms are unresolved. There has been no global symposium on SPF since 1983, and the international exchange of information about SPF has declined since the end of the Small Pelagics and Climate Change (SPACC) project of GLOBEC in 2008.

The goal of the 2017 symposium is to revitalize global international cooperation on investigations of SPF and to identify, discuss and develop a framework to address unanswered questions such as the impact of climate and/or fishing pressure on the resilience of small pelagic populations using a comparative approach. Because of the importance of environmental and anthropogenic drivers on small pelagic resources, the participation of experts in physical oceanography, climate, and socio-economics is essential.