In Puget Sound, forage fish include surf smelt, sand lance, and Pacific herring. These fish live and spawn on the shoreline or in the shallow marine waters of the Sound. Surf smelt and sand lance spawn high up on beaches, usually above the ‘ordinary high-water mark‘. Herring spawn in the eel-grass beds in clear, shallow near-shore waters.
Herring, Sand Lance, anchovies and surf smelt hold an important place in the food web. They feed on minute phytoplankton and zooplankton then pass this huge energy base on to other species. Such as forage fish are a key food source for marine birds, rockfish, salmon and numerous other fish species.
What seems to be the issue?
In Puget Sound, researchers have recorded declines in many forage fish populations. As primary food sources for other key species in the food web, their ‘dwindling numbers‘ may have far-reaching effects.
Disease and warm water stress. Dredging, pollution and shading of nearshore waters with docks and other over-water structures can deplete eelgrass beds, which are prime spawning habitat for herring. Alterations to shoreline habitat, such as bulkheads and other armoring can adversely affect the health of forage fish populations in the region. Approximately one-third of all saltwater shorelines in Puget Sound have some kind of shoreline modification structure, such as bulkhead or seawall.
What is being done?
Fish and wildlife has a forage fish management plan and is transferring years of inventory data to digital maps to make available to local governments and restoration groups. A number of recent local government critical areas ordinance updates added forage fish protection measures. Marine resource committees, salmon restoration groups, tribes and others are undertaking inventory and mapping projects to better understand and protect these species. Shoreline landowner education, agencies and local partners helps to increase awareness and improve protections along targeted shorelines.