Forage Fish Spawning Surveys

Forage fish (generally, small fish eaten by larger animals) are a crucial link in the marine food web, feeding salmon, seabirds and a variety of marine mammals from seals to orcas. The three most common forage fish species in Puget Sound include Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi), surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) and Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus). The MRC helps collect information about the latter two species, which spawn intertidally, their eggs sticking to sandy or gravely beaches. Knowing where and when this spawning occurs is critical for protecting these species and their spawning habitat, which in turn supports a resilient marine food web. Learn more about forage fish here.

Where does the MRC monitor?

Jefferson MRC volunteers monitor three sites for forage fish spawning activity:

Beach samples are collected monthly, processed and analyzed. Both sand lance and surf smelt eggs have been found across these sites during the late fall and winter months. This long-term effort helps fill data gaps about population dynamics and response to restoration efforts. 

The MRC previously monitored Adelma Beach as an index site for about 6.5 years (11/2016 - 6/2023), documenting sand lance and surf smelt spawning typically in the fall and winter months.

WDFW forage fish spawning map

Do Forage Fish Spawn on My Beach?

WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife has extensive information about forage fish, including basic info, long-term studies, and a mapping link you can use to see which species of forage fish might be spawning near your beach. 

MRC member Joanie examining forage fish egg samples at a WDFW survey training.
Smelt eggs photographed by MRC member Jeff.
Forage Fish Spawning Surveys