What's up on the beach? More than you might think

A volunteer scours a local beach as part of Friends of the San Juans forage fish spawning survey.  - Contributed photo/FOSJ
A volunteer scours a local beach as part of Friends of the San Juans forage fish spawning survey.
— image credit: Contributed photo/FOSJ

You may be surprised to learn that there are two kinds of marine fish, Pacific sand lance and surf smelt, that use the upper portions of sand and gravel beaches to spawn and incubate their eggs.

Smelt and sand lance are part of a small group of species of schooling fish in the area more commonly known as "forage fish" for the important role they play as food for larger fish, seabirds and marine mammals.

As of today, forage fish spawning activity has been documented along 10 miles of local beaches, comprising just four percent of the total length of shoreline in San Juan County and 10 percent of non-bedrock shores.

“Because these fish rely on beaches for incubating their eggs, they are at risk from the impacts of shoreline development activities like vegetation removal and bulkhead installation," said Friends of the San Juans Science Director Tina Whitman. "Knowing which sites are used by forage fish helps us focus work with interested public and private property owners to protect or, in some cases, restore spawning habitat.”

With funding support from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Friends staff and trained volunteers are conducting additional surveys across the county.

To date, seven previously unknown spawn sites have been mapped on Stuart, Sucia, Lopez, San Juan and Orcas islands, and Friends field work is slated to continue through the end of the year.

To learn more about the project, volunteer, or request a survey of your beach, contact the Friends, or Whitman, at 378-2319.


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