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 - Google

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. Hoypus Point
Is a site that has a planned restoration. A dilapidated 350 linear foot bulkhead lines the shoreline as of 2021. The bulkhead is comprised of large rock and concrete debris and is backfilled with what appears to be native beach sediments. The bulkhead and fill are proposed for removal to restore the shoreline to more natural conditions and gradients.

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. Hidden Beach
There is a proposed restoration project to remove shoreline armor and debris over 750 linear feet of shoreline to improve intertidal and backshore beach habitat.

5. Sunlight Shores
Removal of shoreline armor to improve 350 linear feet of shoreline and 0.25 acres of nearshore habitat in 2019.

6. Seahorse Siesta
This site had a barge and bulkhead removed in the fall 2020-winter 2021.

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.

More Information

Forage Fish Survey