Submitted by Friends of the San Juans
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 eight 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 the Washington Department 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 the 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 Jess@sanjuans.org, or visit sanjuans.org/foragefish.