Over the past year, teams surveyed more than 1,000 sites on public and private beaches in south Sound to find evidence of spawning activity. Those surveys found forage fish eggs in locations and at times where these fish previously hadn’t been documented, said Phillip Dionne, WDFW research scientist.
“Forage fish play a critical role in the food web, providing nutrients for marine mammals, seabirds, salmon and even people,” Dionne said. “We want to let landowners and beach-goers know that our crews will be out on shorelines conducting research on forage fish for the next few years.”
Beginning in November, state marine biologists plan to expand their search to beaches throughout Puget Sound. At the end of the project, WDFW will have a better understanding of what makes good habitat for forage fish, Dionne said.
Waterfront landowners who want their beaches excluded from the surveys can opt out by filling out a form online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/projects/marine_beach_spawning/opt-out.html.
During the surveys, WDFW crews collect sediment samples to test for fish eggs, photograph beach conditions and take measurements at beaches. Beach surveys, which can be conducted by boat or on foot, generally take less than 30 minutes per location.
Dionne noted that an egg from a surf smelt or sand lance is about the size of a grain of sand, making it difficult for anyone to spot a spawning area with the naked eye. For that reason, private landowners wouldn’t necessarily know if their beaches are being used by forage fish to spawn.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about forage fish and the upcoming beach surveys can visit WDFW’s website at wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/projects/marine_beach_spawning/.
Twelve Puget SoundCorps volunteers will participate in the beach survey project. A part of the Washington Conservation Corps, Puget SoundCorps employs young adults and military veterans, who dedicate up to two years to work on projects designed to restore and protect Puget Sound.
Corps members receive job skills and experience while earning money to pay student loans or continue their education. For more on Puget SoundCorps, visit http://www.ecy.wa.gov/wcc/psc.html.