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. 

additional resources

related news

FSJ and QCD: These Acronyms are Synonymous with Big Impacts

November 11, 2021

At Friends of the San Juans (FSJ) we advocate for orca, healthy seas, and natural beaches. Our policy and education efforts rest on a foundation of science, research, and community engagement. The problems our community faces are wickedly complex and your support is fundamental to building organizational capacity to implement solutions. You have the capacity … read more

It’s important to us that any organization we are involved with actually gets things done, and the work that the Friends takes on so capably really does make a difference.

Ken and Mariann Carrasco

members, Orcas Island