forage fish

Stewards volunteer under the guidance of Island County staff and Island County Marine Resource Committee who are the liaisons to state agencies (WA Dept of Natural Resources and WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife). Volunteers are trained to collect, photograph, process, and preserve fish egg samples for analysis by state personnel.

Forage fish are a key link in the marine food web supporting much larger predator species such as salmon. Without vast numbers of these finger-size fish, which typically swim in schools, the larger predators and many seabirds could not be sustained. In Puget Sound, the three principal species of forage fish are Pacific Herring, Pacific Sand Lance, and Surf Smelt; the health of these populations is of great importance to all who are working for marine recovery.

Two species of Puget Sound’s forage fish, Pacific Sand Lance, Ammodytes hexapterus, and Surf Smelt, Hypomesus pretiosus, deposit their eggs in the upper intertidal zone on sandy-gravelly beaches. Protecting and restoring healthy spawning habitats for these forage fish is an important component of salmon restoration.

forage fish photo of Jay Inslee and Ruth Richards
Governor Jay Inslee learning how we monitor for forage fish eggs

We go out monthly to our sites and collect samples from the beach substrate to look for eggs deposited by local forage fish. All of our samples are stored in a fixative and sent to the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for processing.

Sites we survey on Whidbey and Camano: Cornet Bay, Hoypus Point, Hidden Beach, Sunlight Shores,* Seahorse Siesta, Glendale,* and Maple Grove.*

* Index sites, defined by WDFW as public-access sites with a known history of spawning presence.

forage fish photo of woman at blue bowl

2021 Forage Fish Annual Report

10/5/2021 News Article on Surf Smelt Eggs

IC MRC Forage Fish Survey Egg Surveys

Northwest Straits on Nearshore Restoration at Cornet Bay and resulting forage fish