Small pelagic fish (SPF) account for more than 30% by weight of the total landings of marine capture fisheries around the world. They also play an important role in the transfer of energy through mid-trophic levels in marine ecosystems and are key resources for the world’s growing aquaculture industry. The oscillations in the populations of SPF are dramatic and cyclical in response to climate variability on multi-decadal time scales. However, mechanisms linking climate variability to population dynamics are still unresolved. Hence, there are many challenges to sustainable use of SPF production. As the population dynamics of SPF display basin-scale teleconnections, synthetic and multidisciplinary studies are required to understand the processes and mechanisms to build predictive capacity.
International collaboration on SPF research was spearheaded by the GLOBEC Regional SPACC Program, launched in 1994 with a workshop in La Paz, Mexico.
The SPACC program aimed to understand and predict climate-induced population dynamics of SPF in relation to physical and biological processes and included
several major themes: long-term changes in ecosystems, retrospective analyses, comparative population dynamics, reproductive habitat dynamics, and economic
implications of climate variability. The SPACC program culminated in 2010 with the publication of its review book. Since then, no international program
specific to SPF has been launched, even though SPACC-II visions have been discussed (e.g., Alheit (2010) and van der Lingen et al. (2010)
in GLOBEC International Newsletter, Vol. 16(1)
In the following decade, there has been substantial scientific progress made in several ecosystems: different hypotheses of mechanisms of population dynamics
of SPF have been proposed, data from long-term monitoring and stock-assessment efforts have accumulated, numerical modeling approaches have progressed,
and technologies such as genome analysis have rapidly developed. ICES and PICES co-sponsored a symposium on “Forage fish interactions: Creating the tools
for ecosystem-based management of marine resources” (November 12–14, 2012, Nantes, France) leading to publication of 12 articles in the
ICES Journal of Marine Science (2014, Vol. 71(1), pp. 1–152
The need for a platform to organize intensive international collaboration was re-confirmed during the PICES/ICES Symposium on “Drivers of dynamics
of small pelagic fish resources” (March 6–11, 2017, Victoria, Canada). This symposium led to special issues in
Deep-Sea Research Part II (2019, Vol. 159, pp. 1–182
15 articles) and Marine Ecology Progress Series
(2019, Vol. 617/618, 1–376
; 22 articles).
The platform for international collaboration will allow the marine science community to more rapidly address challenging goals such as to:
Perform a synthesis of mechanisms linking climate variability to population dynamics of SPF among different ecosystems to reconcile various recruitment hypotheses;
Gain a holistic, ecosystem-level view of the causes and consequences of fluctuations in SPF populations such as how different factors (physical forcing, trophodynamics, and fishing pressure) interact to control the dynamics of populations;
Unite various fields (climate science, oceanography, plankton and fish ecology, quantitative fisheries stock assessment, sociology and economics) to build interdisciplinary approaches to examine SPF in social–ecological systems;
Incorporate new monitoring (e.g., environmental DNA) and modeling (e.g., end-to-end) technologies to better understand and manage pelagic ecosystems;
Provide scenarios of the effects of climate change on the distribution and productivity of SPF;
Propose strategies to safeguard marine ecosystem services stemming from SPF including conservation concerns related to SPF and their predators.