Forage Fish

Our Mayne Island Shoreline Atlas Report is now complete: click here for more info and a link to the full report

Mayne Island Conservancy Society

Forage Fish Survey

A video about our forage fish surveys prepared for us by Mark Lauckner & narrated by Chris Fretwell

Surf Smelt & Pacific Sand Lance

Surf Smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) are a schooling fish found in shallow near-shore waters. They range from Prince William Sound, Alaska, to Long Beach, California. They feed on plankton and in turn are preyed upon by larger fish, birds, and marine mammals. Along with other forage fish, like Pacific Sand Lance and Eulachon, they form an important part of the marine food web, sustaining populations of salmon, whales and marine birds. Surf smelt spawn year-round in the upper intertidal zone of mixed sand and gravel beaches. These spawning sites are heavily impacted by shoreline modifications, such as boat ramps, seawalls, culverts, dikes, and riprap, all of which alter the long-term transport of sediment along the shore or bury spawning habitat.
Some surf smelt spawning habitat has been mapped; however, the extent of this habitat remains largely unknown. We are beginning the mapping process this summer on Mayne Island by surveying some of the Island's beaches for surf smelt eggs. The survey procedure is the same for surf smelt and sand lance.

Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) spawn on sandy beaches depositing tiny (1mm) eggs in the upper intertidal zone just below the log line. Sand lance is a cornerstone species, connecting the foundation of the food web-plankton-with higher trophic levels-salmon, birds, mammals. Its spawning habitat is particularly vulnerable to shoreline modifications that interrupt the natural sediment building and eroding processes. The instillation of rigid material, such as retaining walls, increases the wave energy hitting the shore and ultimately leads to hardening of the beach (turning a sandy beach into a cobble beach) and increased erosion upstream.

The first step to protecting spawning beach is to determine if the fish actually spawn there. In January 2009, Pam Thuringer conducted a workshop and training for Pacific sand lance surveys on Mayne. The workshop was well attended and a handful of volunteers toughed out the cold weather to sample 7 beaches. Beaches are chosen and sampled based on a science-based methodology. A litre of sand is collected from each beach and filtered through 3 screen sizes. The egg searching happens in the comfort of home with simple tools: a gold pan, tweezers, magnifying glass, good light and a good pair of eyes. It is tedious searching for 1mm diameter eggs, but once an egg is found the excitement of the search grows.

Why Survey Spawning Sites?

Forage Fish are the cornerstone of the nearshore marine food web, providing food for numerous marine species. As the extent and location of spawning beaches in B.C. are largely unknown, surveys will identify local examples and assist in their protection from detrimental impacts

Our Stewardship page lays out some of the human activities that have an impact on the health of spawning beaches and what we might do to minimise these impacts or elminate them altogether.

Latest News

Vancity presents a cheque
Forage fish survey sites 2009-11

Eggs found! Pacific Sand Lance eggs have been found during surveys on Village Bay, Horton Bay and Campbell Bay.

Monitoring for forage fish eggs has continued throughout 2010 and into 2011. Unfortunately no surf smelt eggs have been found to date, nor have any new sand lance locations been found. Surveys are continuing in 2011.

Thank you to all the volunteers who have participated in these surveys! In 2010 there were 8 different volunteers who contributed a total of 37.5 hours to this program.

Spawning Video

For 2010-11 the Pacific Sand Lance Project has become part of the "Shoreline Care" programme of the Mayne Island Conservancy as the survey has been expanded to cover many other kinds of forage fish, with particular emphasis on the Surf Smelt.

Here is the FIRST underwater video of Pacific Sand Lance spawning in British Columbia, Canada. shot by "Amphibiographer" and posted on You Tube These forage fish spawn in the shallows of the intertidal zone during late fall and winter. Also see them burrowing into the sand and popping out. Slow-motion clips reveal the sinuous movements of these lightning fast fish as they flash brilliant spawning colours.

Facts & Stats

The forage fish role in the marine food chain
  • Sand lance comprise more than 50% of diet for 31 species of birds, 9 marine mammals, 27 fishes
  • Sand lance comprise 10-50% of diet for 9 additional birds, 3 additional marine mammals, about 19 additional fishes
  • 72% of chinook salmon diet is sand lance and herring
  • 50% of coho salmon diet is forage fish
Locating Sand Lance eggs involved the following
  • 3450 square metres of beach were surveyed
  • 12 volunteers
  • 57 hours of intensive beach site labour
  • We did not track the hours of gold pan swishing, .. but it was a lot!

Volunteer Opportunities

For extensive volunteer opportunities in connection with the survey of Mayne Island beaches to locate and identify Sand Lance, Surf Smelt and other forage fish spawning territory please go to the Shoreline Care page.

More Pictures

Sand Lance Egg
A Pacific Sand Lance Egg
Panning for Project Gold
Panning for Project Gold
Stoop labour scooping the sample
Digging the Sample - Stoop 'n' Scoop
Intertidal Spawnpits (and a bucket!)
Sandlance Rush Hour
Sand Lance "Schools" Program

You can find many more photographs and illustrations of the Shoreline Care Project in action by visiting our Gallery pages

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