Small pelagic fish (SPF) account for more than 30% by weight of the total landings of capture fisheries around the world. SPF populations of both marine and inland ecosystems are crucial for ensuring global food security. SPF also play an important role in the transfer of energy in food webs through mid-trophic levels, so understanding processes affecting the dynamics of their populations, their role in marine ecosystems and how these shape robust management practices continues to be a high priority. During the last four decades, coordinated, global research efforts (see tab on History of Global Collaboration on SPF) have targeted these and other topics, yielding important comparative analyses and highlighting key gaps in our knowledge. For example, global analyses revealed oscillations in the productivity of SPF populations linked to climate variability on various (seasonal to multi-decadal) scales that have resulted in dramatic consequences for ecological and human communities. The exchange of information and ideas drawn from comparing populations across the globe can be particularly insightful as we seek to improve management strategies.

Substantial scientific progress continues to be made on understanding the drivers and dynamics of SPF in ecosystems across a range of spatial and temporal scales. The integration of numerical models with ever-growing data from monitoring efforts and stock assessments has enabled more comprehensive consideration of hypotheses describing SPF population variability. Additionally, the rapid development of new methods like eDNA, machine learning, and genome analysis to ascertain population structure can offer new insight to long-standing questions. The application of various regional management strategies and approaches to studying coupled social-ecological systems in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders is ripe for comparative research.

The international symposium on “Small Pelagic Fish: New Frontiers in Science for Sustainable Management” will highlight the state-of-the-art in these and other topics related to the ecology and sustainable management of SPF. The symposium complements collaborative research conducted by the joint ICES/PICES Working Group on Small Pelagic Fish and is relevant to the goals of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, particularly “to bolster scientific research for a sustainably harvested ocean ensuring the provision of food supply.”