community science

engaging the community to better understand our environment


Forage fish play an important role in local and regional food webs
 as critical prey for juvenile and adult Chinook salmon, seabirds, and marine mammals. Beach spawning forage fish like Pacific sand lance and surf smelt, lay their eggs near the high tide line of sand and gravel beaches, an area that places them at risk from shoreline modifications. A little bit offshore – Pacific herring, another key forage fish and food web component, spawns on submerged aquatic vegetation including eelgrass and kelps. 

Friends has worked over the past two decades to map, protect, and restore San Juan County spawning beaches. In 2019, we ramped up our capacity to cover the winter Pacific sand lance spawning season by training teams of students and community volunteers. 

Our forage fish survey team now consists of Friends staff, 34 volunteers, and schools from 6 different islands. During the 2019/2020 season our field team documented 6 new Pacific Sand Lance spawning beaches as well as 2 previously unknown surf smelt spawning sites. New forage fish spawning sites were found on public and private beaches on Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, San Juan, and Waldron Islands.  

Coupled with survey data from last year (nov 2018-jan 2019) – the first two years of Friends’ 3-year study on Pacific sand lance spawning in the San Juans has more than doubled the number of documented Pacific sand lance spawning beaches in the county from 8 to 19.

Project data is added to the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forage fish statewide spawn habitat maps and informs efforts to protect and restore this essential component of marine food webs. 

Thank you to our project partners: Salish Sea Biological and Samish Natural Resources Department. Thank you to our funders: WA State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Contact Jess at [email protected] for more info. 

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We believe that our property is more valuable if we and our neighbors protect the shoreline. Orcas need salmon. Salmon need forage fish. Salmon and forage fish need the protection of eelgrass and kelp. Eelgrass and kelp need clean water. Shoreline protections are good for ecosystems and for the long-term economy of these lovely islands.

Val and Leslie Veirs

members, San Juan Island