New protections for forage fish off the West Coast will protect species that help sustain the marine food web.

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A federal rule published Monday prohibits West Coast commercial fishermen from targeting eight types of forage fish that help support the broader maritime food chain.

Forage fish are pursued in areas of the world where they may be put into feed products for aquaculture, livestock and pet food. This rule intends to preclude such harvests in the 200-mile federal zone off Oregon, Washington and California, so long as there is not enough science to assess the impacts of catching these fish on the marine ecosystem.

The rule applies to round herring, thread herring, Pacific sand lances, Pacific saury, silversides and certain kinds of smelts and pelagic squids. Some of these species may currently be caught accidentally, as bycatch, by commercial fishermen, but there are no harvests that specifically target them.

All of the species help sustain marine mammals, birds and other fish populations.

“Conservation actions like these illustrate why the United States continues to be a leader in responsibly managing our resources,” said Will Stelle, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries regional administrator, in a statement.

The protections were first approved last year by the Pacific Fishery Management Council and then passed on to NOAA Fisheries to be published in final form.

“This is a groundbreaking policy shift in how we approach the remaining unexploited resources in our ocean,” said Geoff Shester, California campaigns director for Oceana, a marine-conservation group.

Aubudon also was involved in advocating for the protections.

“Some of the species protected today are already fished heavily elsewhere in the world, which has contributed to major declines in our Pacific marine birds,” said Anna Weinstein of Audubon California.