State of Our Watersheds: Forage Fish Habitat Threatened in the Strait, Bays

Forage fish populations could be at risk because of modified and armored shorelines, according to the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s report in the 2016 State of Our Watersheds.

Armoring and modification interrupts the movement of sand and sediment along the shoreline, which is important spawning habitat for sand land, surf smelt and herring.

More than 50 percent of the shoreline that is documented shows that forage fish habitat have been negatively impacted in the tribe’s area of concern, which includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Sequim and Discovery bays.

Herring stocks remain in critical status in Discovery Bay.

Discovery Bay habitat conditions

Forage fish tend to spawn on upper intertidal beaches made of sand and gravel. These fish are small schooling fish that are important prey for larger predatory fish and wildlife in the marine food web.

Sand lance is recognized as being one of the key elements of a juvenile chinook salmon’s nearshore diet.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the bays have been altered in various ways by human activities, to the detriment of these species. Studies show that development on shorelines negatively affects their spawning sites.

From the report:

This could be one of the main factors contributing to their continued decline. Maintaining abundant herring, surf smelt and sand lance in Puget Sound is a conservation imperative, but current county regulations do not consider cumulative or off-site impacts of armoring the shoreline and do not address likely future conditions such as climate change.

Pacific herring are a valuable indicator of ecosystem health and they serve as an important bait fish for tribal fishermen. In Discovery Bay, Pacific herring status is critical, which is one step away from disappearance. In Sequim Bay, the status in recent years has fluctuated between moderately healthy and depressed. The estimated herring biomass in Discovery Bay and Sequim Bay combined continues to be low compared to the 1980s.