West Coast fishery regulators on Tuesday banned fishing for huge swaths of species at the base of the ocean’s food chain, a major step toward ocean conservation that was hailed by environmentalists and fishermen alike.


Driven by booming demands from international fish farms and concern for the ocean’s delicate ecosystem, the vote by the Pacific Fishery Management Council represents the first time the federal government has implemented such widespread policy changes affecting so-called forage fish, the tiny species that larger predators, such as salmon, tuna and even whales, depend on for food.


“You can’t just look at the oceans as feed lots. These are food webs that are extremely complex and extremely valuable,” said Geoff Shester, California program director for Monterey-based Oceana.


Most people probably never have heard of the hundreds of species protected by Tuesday’s vote at the council’s meeting in Vancouver, Washington. They fall into seven broad categories: Pacific saury, Silversides, round and thread herring, Pacific sand lance, Osmerid smelts, mesopelagic fishes and pelagic squids.


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