The abundance and schooling behavior of forage fish is what makes them such an important food source to larger predators, such as salmon. Photo: Jan Kocian
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

Forage Fish Survey Sites

Current 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. Hoypus Point
Restoration in 2022 removed a 350 linear foot dilapidated bulkhead.  The bulkhead was composed of large rock and concrete debris and backfilled with what appeared to be native beach sediments. The shoreline was restored to more natural conditions and gradients.  Surveys beginning in 2020 have found surf smelt eggs every summer.

3. Maple Grove
This site is a popular public fishing site for surf smelt. Surf smelt eggs have been observed May through October for multiple years.

4. Keystone Farm
Keystone Farm and Forest Reserve is a 216 acre property acquired by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust in April of 2022.  The property includes a beach house and short bulkhead that will be removed in 2024 as part of the habitat restoration of the site.  Forage fish spawn surveying started at Keystone Farm in October 2023 on the shore beneath the bulkhead and at another site south of the bulkhead that is beneath undisturbed forest.  Sampling will continue during and after the restoration work. 

5. Seahorse Siesta
This site had a barge and bulkhead removed in the fall 2020-winter 2021. Winter surveying since the restoration has found sand lance eggs.

7. Glendale
This site is at the mouth of Glendale Creek, which is a salmon-bearing stream. The MRC has been monitoring here since January 2017, and has not documented spawn presence to date. 

Recording Data
Collecting Samples
Processing Samples

More Information

Forage Fish Survey