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 habitat for these forage fish is an important component of salmon restoration.
The Island County Marine Resources Committee has been surveying forage fish spawning since 1999. It is now completing the first year of the most recent effort to continue surveying our beaches for evidence of use by Pacific Sand Lance and Surf Smelt.
The goals of the intertidal forage fish spawning surveys in Island County are to:
- Enhance baseline data
- Document changes over time in forage fish usage of Island County beaches using established methods that will provide data comparable across monitoring years.
This survey is designed to establish continuity with existing WDNR and WDFW data in an effort to define trends and develop an understanding of the conditions and processes affecting the study areas over time. To achieve this, all surveys will use established standards and sampling methodologies developed and made available by WDFW. As the planned monitoring program is implemented over succeeding years, it will generate data that can be used to establish baseline conditions, define trends, document changes, and identify potential restoration opportunities.
Island County Marine Resources Committee conducts several inter-tidal and sub-tidal surveys, including forage fish, eelgrass and kelp. In addition, the MRC participates in shoreline restoration projects in the County. In an effort to create a deeper knowledge base of the health of our shoreline, we chose monitoring sites at which survey or restoration projects are being conducted. Restoration projects at our sites are in feasibility, in-progress, or post-project phases.
In addition, in collaboration with WDFW’s implementation of Senate Bill #5166, we are surveying at four Index sites, defined by WDFW as public-access sites with known history of spawning presence.
Sites we survey on Whidbey and Camano –
- Waterman Preserve
- South Sandy Point – index
- Freeland Park – index
- Long Point – index
- indjammer Park – index
- Ala Spit
- Cornet Bay
- Maple Grove – index
- Camano Island State Park
Between March 2015, when our planning began, and August 2016, with surveys beginning in November 2015, project leads have contributed a total of 565 hours to the survey, and have driven over 5000 miles. We have overseen 48 surveys, representing 144 samples, and collected 18 samples from Index sites to date. Our 16 volunteers have contributed 254 hours of invaluable assistance.
Results to date show that Ala Spit and Maple Grove are yielding the greatest numbers of Surf Smelt eggs. In addition, Ala Spit and Camano Island State Park yielded small numbers of Pacific Sand Lance last January.
We have been pleased to contribute to a project that results in policy informed and improved by science. We look forward to reviewing the results of our effort once WDFW analyzes the data. Until then, we remain curious, work to perfect our process, and practice a strict adherence to the protocol.
Co-leads, MRC Forage Fish Survey
(both Beach Watchers Class of 2015)