Back to Our Work

Forage Fish


Rhinoceros auklet with Pacific sandlance. Photo: Phil GreenForage fish have long been a focus of our work, and there is no one simple approach to protecting them. Clean water and availability of zooplankton and other food is important. Herring lay their eggs on kelp, eelgrass and other substrates. Sand lance and surf smelt lay their eggs on the beach, where survival is tricky. We need to preserve these vulnerable habitats.

The MRCs have surveyed and mapped spawning beaches in seven counties, providing many years of data to local governments and resources managers. Our scientific workshops and symposia have spurred new collaborations among forage fish experts in the US and Canada.


Ken Dzinbal - forage fish survey trainingThe Commission provides core funding and technical support for monitoring to inform research, policy, and local planning efforts; as well as targeted outreach by the MRCs to reduce stressors on forage fish populations (i.e. shoreline armoring, stormwater runoff into local embayments).

Commission staff helped start the PSEMP Forage Fish and Food Webs Work Group, and continues to provide staff support and participate in the group. This group of technical experts has bolstered commitments to strengthen monitoring needed for Puget Sound recovery.



undefinedIn 2016, the Commission held two forage fish survey workshops to train citizen science volunteers to document spawning activity by surf smelt and sand lance. Since 2014, we have trained more than 100 volunteers at seven training events hosted in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Volunteers are surveying beaches in all seven Northwest Straits counties and sharing their data with state agencies and local governments.

The Commission also co-hosted a two-day symposium at the 145th American Fisheries Society meeting, highlighting forage fish research, conservation and management efforts across North America, in order to develop new collaborative efforts and reduce existing knowledge gaps around these species.

Results of previous work were published as Nearshore distribution of Pacific sand lance in the inland waters of Washington State in the Winter 2015 edition of Northwestern Naturalist.

Click here to view training materials and presentations from our Forage Fish Sampling Training.