Good News! New Forage Fish Spawning Beaches Found!

Posted April 30, 2020 at 9:25 am by

This win­ter, Friends of the San Juans staff and a team of trained cit­i­zen sci­en­tists, doc­u­ment­ed six new Pacif­ic sand lance spawn­ing beach­es. They also dis­cov­ered two pre­vi­ous­ly unknown surf smelt spawn­ing sites. Cou­pled with results from last win­ter, the num­ber of doc­u­ment­ed sand lance spawn­ing beach­es in San Juan Coun­ty more than dou­bled from 8 to 19.

Pacif­ic sand lance and surf smelt play an impor­tant role in local and region­al marine food webs; they are crit­i­cal prey for juve­nile and adult Chi­nook salmon, seabirds, and marine mam­mals. Since these lit­tle fish lay their eggs on local beach­es, their sur­vival is espe­cial­ly vul­ner­a­ble to changes on the land. When eggs are doc­u­ment­ed on a beach, that knowl­edge is added to WA State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s habi­tat maps which helps to guide shore­line pro­tec­tion and restora­tion efforts.

Win­ter, with its stormy weath­er and lim­it­ed day­time low tides, is a chal­leng­ing time to hunt for for­age fish eggs. Win­ter is also when Pacif­ic sand lance spawn in San Juan Coun­ty. For the sec­ond field sea­son, vol­un­teers and stu­dents were trained to help col­lect beach sam­ples through­out the islands to look for these tiny, mighty eggs. This team of 60 ded­i­cat­ed cit­i­zen sci­en­tists went out in ear­ly morn­ings, in wind, rain, and even snow. Alto­geth­er with Friends staff, 174 dif­fer­ent beach­es on nine islands were sam­pled, with a total of 405 sur­veys conducted.

“Our favorite part of being a vol­un­teer was learn­ing about the dif­fer­ent for­age fish in the Sal­ish Sea and their life cycle and also sup­port­ing their con­ser­va­tion,” said Cyn­di Smith from Lopez Island.

New for­age fish spawn­ing sites were found on pub­lic and pri­vate beach­es on Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, San Juan, and Wal­dron Islands. Plus, stu­dents from schools on Wal­dron and Decatur Islands, and Spring Street Inter­na­tion­al learned about the marine ecosys­tem, gained new skills, and were able to use them in a real project in their community. 

This project has one more field sea­son. For more infor­ma­tion, or to get involved in next win­ter’s sur­vey efforts by pro­vid­ing sam­pling access on your own beach — con­tact or vis­it:

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Categories: Animals, Science, Wildlife

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