Working Group 43: Joint PICES/ICES Working Group on Small Pelagic Fish
Background and Motivations
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.
Contribution to the PICES and ICES Strategic Plans
The activities of the joint working group will contribute primarily to the first three of the six goals identified in the PICES Strategic Plan: (1) Foster collaboration among scientists within PICES and with other multinational organizations; (2) Understand the status and trends, vulnerability, and resilience of marine ecosystems; and (3) Understand and quantify how marine ecosystems respond to natural forcing and human activities (Goals 2 and 3 are similar to the two research themes in the PICES FUTURE integrative scientific program).

The activities of this joint working group also align with at least five of the seven science priorities set in the ICES Strategic Plan, including: (1) Ecosystem science, (2) Impacts of human activities, (3) Observation and exploration, (4) Seafood production and (5) Conservation and management science.
Terms of Reference
  1. Review recent progress on understanding how various drivers (environmental and/or anthropogenic) impact the population dynamics of SPF in different ecosystems and whether and how potential drivers shift with changes in ecosystem state.
  2. Create a networking environment for international and multidisciplinary collaboration to foster the establishment of similar study frameworks and comparative analyses of SPF across different social-ecological systems based on updated time-series data sets of climate indices, environmental factors and tipping points, fisheries biology and ecophysiological information (feeding, growth and survival), and inter-model comparisons.
  3. Identify, prioritize, and coordinate research most needed to advance our knowledge and capacity to predict the population dynamics of SPF at both short (seasonal to inter-annual) and long (decadal to centennial) time scales.
  4. Provide recommendations for strategies of marine ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management of SPF which will contribute to sustainable ecosystem-based fisheries management, through biophysical, ecosystem and/or socio-economic models.
  5. Organize a joint ICES/PICES symposium on SPF, tentatively scheduled for late 2021, that builds upon the 2017 symposium in Victoria, Canada, and showcases integrative analyses of this working group. Additionally, working group members will propose, coordinate, and convene topic sessions at PICES Annual Meetings and ICES Annual Science Conferences focused on key questions and recent advances in SPF science.
Expected Deliverables
Year 1: Task forces will be formed within the joint working group during its first meeting (ToR#2) to address SPF topics of focus. Examples include:
  • assembling updated regional time series for comparative analyses of the role of SPF in ecological tipping points;
  • sharing novel field and laboratory measurement techniques advancing knowledge on biology and ecophysiology of SPF and organizing training workshops;
  • comparing parameterization of SPF in models (food web to end-to-end) and inter-model comparisons of the direct and indirect effects of climate variability and change;
  • examining how fluctuations of the stocks of SPF have been linked to social and economic consequences to human communities.
Year 2
  • A world-wide review of current understanding of SPF responses to environmental change (bottom-up forcing) (ToR #1) is expected to be submitted as a manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal by the mid-point of Year 2. Targeted journals for such a review include Fish and Fisheries, Advances in Marine Biology, Marine Ecology Progress Series or ICES Journal of Marine Science.
Year 3
  • A “perspectives” type manuscript will be generated highlighting key questions in the dynamics of SPF and why these questions are critical to the research topics (ToR #3). This “perspectives” manuscript will be combined with recommendations for coordinated ecosystem monitoring and management strategies (ToR #4) and will be completed by the end of Year 3. A suitable venue for this report may be a special issue associated with the planned international symposium (see ToR #5). Additionally, key results emerging from the 2021 international symposium will be published in special issues of primary journals (with potential forums being Marine Ecology Progress Series or Deep-Sea Research Part II). The timeline for completion of these volumes is tentatively one year or one and a half year following the symposium.
Task Forces and Activity
Three broad Tasks Forces have been defined by WGSPF to address the range of ecological, management, and socioeconomic questions concerning SPF stocks worldwide. Then, eleven activities and a greater number of associated research questions have been identified to work on in the next three years. Within each activity, WG members will collaborate on a specific topic designed and championed by group members. Each topic is expected to use a comparative approach across systems and/or species.


Activity 1: Critical review, evaluation and testing of classic hypotheses
Leaders: Myron Peck (The Netherlands), Akinori Takasuka (Japan) Email

Activity 2: Life cycle closures - bottlenecks and gaps in knowledge
Leaders: Noelle Bolwin (USA), Ignacio Catalan (Spain) Email

Activity 3: Drivers of spatial distribution and phenology
Leaders: Rebecca Asch (USA), Marta Moyano (Norway) Email

Activity 4: Food-web dynamics
Leader: Susana Garrido (Portugal) Email

Activity 5: Internal and external drivers of growth, reproduction, and survival
Leader: Martin Huret (France) Email


Activity 6: Survey design and monitoring
Leaders: Matthias Kloppmann (Germany), Chris Rooper (Canada) Email

Activity 7: Improving short-term forecasts and/or long-term projections
Leader: Ryan Rykaczewski (USA) Email

Activity 8: Improvements to management
Leaders: Salvador Lluch-Cota (Mexico), Richard Nash (UK), Andres Uriarte (Spain) Email

(Activity structure and leadership may be modified)

Activity 9: Networks, vulnerability, and opportunities of dependent human communities
Leader: Myron Peck (The Netherlands) Email

Activity 10: Quantifying trade-offs in goods and services
Leaders: Cecilie Hansen (Norway), Isaac Kaplan (USA) Email

Activity 11: Bioeconomic modeling
Leader: Myron Peck (The Netherlands) Email

Please inform the Activity Leaders and WG Co-Chairs which activity or activities you are interested to join and feel free to recommend additional people. You will then be part of the conversation to define specific topics.
Meetings and Events
  • Topic Session “Environmental variability and small pelagic fishes in the North Pacific: Exploring mechanistic and pragmatic methods for integrating ecosystem considerations into assessment and management” at PICES-2021, date TBD
    [PICES-2021 SPF Topic Session]

  • Topic Workshop “Pelagic and forage species – Predicting response and evaluating resiliency to environmental variability” at PICES-2021, date TBD
    [PICES-2021 SPF Workshop]

  • Topic Workshop (W6) “Research priorities for understanding the population dynamics of small pelagic fish in the North Pacific” at PICES-2020 Virtual Meeting, from 18:00-21:00 on October 14 (Victoria time)
    [PICES-2020 SPF Workshop]

  • Virtual WG 43 business meeting in conjunction with PICES-2020 Virtual Meeting, from 17:00–19:00 on September 8–9 (Victoria time)
    [Virtual WG 43 business meeting agenda]

  • WGSPF first (kick-off) meeting, March 9-11, 2020, ICES Headquarters, Copenhagen, Denmark
    [WGSPF kick-off meeting agenda]
Annual Meetings


WG 43 virtual business meeting report, September 8-9, 2020 [pdf]

Session and Workshop Summaries



Summer 2020, Vol. 28, No. 2
Identifying research priorities for understanding the dynamics of small pelagic fish

Other Reports

WGSPF kick-off meeting report, March 9-11, 2020, Copenhagen, Denmark [pdf]

Dr. Jennifer L. Boldt (FUTURE-SSC, MONITOR, WG-36, WG-43)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Pacific Biological Station
3190 Hammond Bay Rd.
Nanaimo, BC
Canada V9T 6N7
(1-250) 756-7110
Prof. Francis Juanes (WG-43)
Department of Biology
University of Victoria
3800 Finnerty Rd.
Victoria, BC
Canada V8P 5C2
Dr. Chris Rooper (WG-43)
Pacific Biological Station
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
3190 Hammond Bay Road
Nanaimo, BC
Canada V9T6N7
Dr. Sachihiko Itoh (WG-38, WG-43)
Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute
The University of Tokyo
5-1-5 Kashiwanoha
Kashiwa, Chiba
Japan 277-8564
(81-4) 7136-6326
(81-4) 7136-6327
Dr. Toshihide Kitakado (WG-43)
represents NPFC in WG-43
Department of Marine Biosciences
Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology
5-7, Konan 4, Minato
Tokyo, Japan 108-8477
Dr. Shinichiro Nakayama (WG-43)
Highly Migratory Resources Division, Fisheries Stock Assessment Center, Fisheries Resources Institute
Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA)
2-12-4, Fukuura, Kanazawa
Yokohama, Japan 236-8648
Dr. Haruka Nishikawa (WG-43)
Research Institute for Value-Added-Information Generation
Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC)
3173-25 Showa-machi, Kanazawa-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa
Japan 236-0001
Dr. Motomitsu Takahashi (BIO, S-CCME, WG-43)
Pelagic Fish Resources Division, Fisheries Stock Assessment Center, Fisheries Resources Institute
Japan Fisheries Research and Education Agency (FRA)
1551-8 Taira-machi
Nagasaki, Nagasaki
Japan 851-2213
Prof. Akinori Takasuka (WG-40, WG-43)
WG-43 PICES Co-Chair
Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences
The University of Tokyo
1-1-1 Yayoi, Bunkyo
Tokyo, Japan 113-8657
Dr. Fei Chai (WG-40, WG-43)
Second Institute of Oceanography
Ministry of Natural Resources
36 Baochubei Rd.
Hangzhou, People's Republic of China 310012
Prof. Xianshi Jin (FIS, SB, WG-43)
FIS Chair
Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, CAFS
106 Nanjing Rd., Shinan District
Qingdao, Shandong
People's Republic of China 266071
(86-532) 85849430
(86-532) 85811514
Prof. Yongjun Tian (WG-43)
College of Fisheries
Ocean Univeristy of China
5 Yushan Rd.
Qingdao, Shandong
People's Republic of China 266003
Prof. Hui Zhang (WG-43)
Institute of Oceanology, CAS
7 Nanhai Rd.
Qingdao, Shandong
People's Republic of China 266071
Dr. Kui Zhang (WG-43)
South China Sea Fisheries Research Institute, CAFS
231 West Xingang Road, Haizhu District
Guangzhou, Guangdong
People's Republic of China 510000
(86-20) 89108007
(86-20) 84451442
Dr. Sukyung Kang (FIS, FUTURE-SSC, S-CCME, SB, WG-43)
Fisheries Resources Management Division
National Institute of Fisheries Science (NIFS)
216 Haean-ro, Gijang-eup, Gijang-gun
Busan, Republic of Korea 46083
(82-51) 720-2280
(82-51) 720-2277
Prof. Dohoon Kim (HD, WG-43)
Marine & Fisheries Business and Economics
Pukyong National University
Yongso-ro 45, Nam-gu
Busan, Republic of Korea 48513
Dr. Jung Jin Kim (WG-43)
Fisheries Resources Management Division
National Institute of Fisheries Science
216 Gijanghaean-ro, Gijang-eup, Gijang-gun
Busan, Republic of Korea 46083
Dr. Oleg N. Katugin (FUTURE-SSC, HD, WG-43)
represents NPFC in WG-43
Division for International Scientific Cooperation
Pacific Scientific Research Fisheries Center (TINRO-Center)
4 Shevchenko Alley
Vladivostok, Primorsky Kray
Russia 690090
(7-423) 2300-752
(7-423) 2300-752
Dr. Matthew Baker (WG-35, WG-43, WG-44)
North Pacific Research Board (NPRB)
1007 West Third Ave., Suite 100
Anchorage, AK
U.S.A. 99501
Dr. Noelle M. Bowlin (WG-43)
Southwest Fisheries Science Center
NOAA NMFS, Fisheries Resources Division
8901 La Jolla Shores Drive
La Jolla, CA
U.S.A. 92037-1508
(1-858) 546-7146
Dr. Isaac C. Kaplan (WG-43)
Northwest Fisheries Science Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
2725 Montlake Blvd. E
Seattle, WA
U.S.A. 98112
Dr. Ryan R. Rykaczewski (CREAMS-AP, FUTURE-SSC, WG-40, WG-43)
WG-40 Co-Chair (CLIVAR), WG-43 PICES Co-Chair
Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Ecosystem Sciences Division NOAA PIFSC 1845 Wasp Blvd, Bldg. 176
Honolulu, HI
U.S.A. 96818-5007
(1-808) 725-5372