Island County Marine Resources Home Page

Forage Fish Survey

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, Sand Lance and Surf Smelt, and the health of these populations is of great importance to all who are working for marine recovery.

At Cornet Bay on the northern tip of Whidbey Island, the MRC is working with volunteers, including many Sound Water Stewards volunteers, to survey several shoreline areas for the presence of forage fish eggs. This monitoring is part of our Cornet Bay Restoration project to establish a baseline and document any changes that occur during and after the completion of bulkhead removal and other shoreline restoration.

Our Cornet Bay project is designed to improve spawning habitat for forage fish and nearshore habitat for forage fish and salmon by eliminating a source of beach scouring, expanding intertidal habitat, improving beach composition and improving riparian vegetation. Removing the bulkhead also will eliminate a source of any leaching of hydrocarbons onto the beach.

Two of Puget Sound's principal forage fish, Pacific Sand Lance and Surf Smelt, 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.

We have been conducting forage fish research since the MRC was founded in 1999. Late that year we began the design and sponsorship of a comprehensive, multi-year, nearshore project. Regional forage fish spawning habitat surveys evolved from that.The year 2000 Marine Ecosytstem Health Progrgram (MEHP) grant of $17,000 was the first funding awarded for this Island County effort, which subsequently grew to encompass all seven NWSC counties with cosponsors and cofunders. Over time it attrtacted hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB), Northwest Straits Commission (NWSC), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

This was the largest geographic forage fish habitat assessment/mapping project in the world. Its goal was to biologically identify beaches used as spawning areas by Surf Smelt, Pacific Sand Lance and Pacific Herring that form the core of the food chain for salmon, rockfish, shore birds, diving birds and many mammals. Upon completion, the forage fish component of the MRC's larger nearshore project established a baseline for future monitoring and provided valuable information for county shoreline users, planners, developers and property owners.


Island County MRC | Island County Dept. of Natural Resources | PO Box 5000 | Coupeville, WA 98239-5000 | main (360)679.7350