© Stephanie Nicholl / WWF-Canada Capelin on shore, Newfoundland

Forage Fish

Despite their small size, forage fish underpin the health of our ocean ecosystems.

What Are Forage Fish?

Forage fish are small to medium marine species that are eaten by larger predatory species, including seabirds, whales and larger fish like tuna and cod. Some well-known forage fish species in our waters are herring, capelin and mackerel.

© Karen Rosborough / WWF-Canada Fishing boats and fishermen, Newfoundland, Canada

Forage Fish Are in Trouble

Forage fish are found in all of Canada’s three oceans. Because they congregate in shoals, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and overfishing. Many fisheries in Canada target forage fish to use as bait. The collapse of forage fish stocks is bad news for predators who depend on them as a source of food. For some species, like humpback whales, forage fish can account for 75 per cent of their diet.

In 2016, WWF-Canada released a report, Food for all, which warns that for three-quarters of Canadian forage fish fisheries, the status of the fish stock is unknown. The report found that in Canadian fisheries, decisions have and are being made on how many fish can be caught without knowing how many fish there are. Five of the stocks that we do have information on are in the critical zone.

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What WWF-Canada is Doing

We’re looking out for “the little guys,” because without them, there won’t be enough food for predatory marine species. We are working with partners to modernize fisheries management to account for the needs of multiple species and to find alternatives to using forage fish as bait. We are also working on securing protections for critical habitat such as spawning beaches.

WWF-Canada is working with citizen scientists, experts from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations to address information gaps on forage fish. Together with our partners, we’re tracking capelin spawning through ecapelin.ca in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Along the coast of the Salish Sea in B.C., we’re identifying beaches used by forage fish to spawn. We’ll apply this information to help protect important habitat.

© Stephanie Nicholl / WWF-Canada Catching capelin in net

What You Can Do

Adopt an Atlantic Puffin


Capelin in Newfoundland

Help Track Capelin Sightings

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A group participating in a shoreline cleanup


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© WWF-Canada / Zoe Caron Surface of the Arctic Ocean

Learn More about Our Ocean Work

It’s not too late to bring the ocean back to a state of health and resilience. We are working to change the tide, driving protection and sustainable management so the ocean has a vibrant future.