The federal government is announcing a new rule designed to protect small fish that form an important piece of the ocean food web.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the new rule is the first of its kind in the Atlantic Ocean to list forage species as “ecosystem component” species. That would set catch limits for 17 species and species groups to prevent expansion of commercial fishing in the federal waters of the mid-Atlantic.

Forage fish include small schooling fish such as anchovies, herring and mackerel. NOAA Fisheries says commercial fisheries frequently catch forage fish, but the government has a lack of information about the amount of forage species caught in the mid-Atlantic.

The rule is effective Sept. 27.

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