The abundance and schooling behavior of forage fish is what makes them such an important food source to larger predators, such as salmon. Photo: Jim Ramaglia
Forage Fish Survey

Forage Fish Survey

What Are Forage Fish?

Forage Fish are a key link in the marine food web supporting larger species, such as salmon, marine mammals, and seabirds. Without vast numbers of these finger-size fish, which typically swim in schools, the larger predators could not be sustained. In Puget Sound the three principal species of forage fish are Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance, and surf smelt.

Sand lance and surf smelt spawn on sandy/gravelly beaches, so it is important we maintain this habitat which is critical for their survival. This is an area of the beach that often gets disturbed or disappears when hard shoreline armoring, such as bulkheads are installed. Restoring our beaches to a natural condition helps bring back areas suitable for forage fish spawning.

What Are We Doing?

Citizen science volunteers monitor beaches around Island County on a monthly basis for presence of forage fish eggs. Volunteers survey beaches in conjunction with restoration projects to track whether forage fish are utilizing the restored area. The MRC also assists WDFW in conducting surveys at index sites – locations which have had documented spawn presence in the past – to add to the bigger picture of forage fish spawning around Puget Sound.

Forage Fish Survey Sites

1. Cornet Bay
Surf smelt eggs were found for the first time at Cornet Bay! Restoration work at Cornet Bay has included creosote bulkhead removal, fill removal, beach regrading, and re-establishing native vegetation. In September 2016, eggs were found at the natural beach sample site just adjacent to where restoration work has been completed. In August 2017, eggs were found within the restored area, where a bulkhead had been removed and the beach regraded to a natural condition.

2. Ala Spit
Restoration at Ala Spit included removal of a concrete bulkhead and the addition of beach nourishment to the neck of the spit. At this site, which showed previous documentation of forage fish spawning, survey samples taken here showed presence of sand lance eggs 3 months after completion of the restoration work, indicating the rapid return of forage fish following restoration work.

3. Windjammer
The MRC has been monitoring here since July 2016, and has not documented spawn presence to date.

4. Long Point
The MRC has been monitoring here since March 2016. Instances of surf smelt spawning have been recorded in September-November 2016, and January-February 2017. Sand lance eggs were also found in November 2016.

5. Freeland Park
The MRC has been monitoring here since September 2016, and has not documented spawn presence to date.

6. Glendale
The MRC has been monitoring here since January 2017, and has not documented spawn presence to date.

Forage Fish Survey