Beach Forage Fish Spawning

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Pacific sandlance and surf smelt provide a significant source of prey to larger fish, birds and mammals. Available evidence suggests that they spawn on beaches in sediment of a specific size and elevation. These spawning sites are created and sustained by large scale physical processes, particuarly the erosion of bluffs, and the transport and winnowing of sediments as part of long-shore drift. The protection of forage fish spawning has therefore become an important management goal of beach ecosystem management.

Pacific Herring which spawn on eelgrass and macroalgae are considered on other pages.


  • WDFW manages a small forage fish science program that monitors and tests beaches for forage fish spawning.
  • There is not evidence to determine whether the same forage fish return to spawn at the beach of their birth.
  • There is no reliable record to determine if overall beach spawning forage fish populations are stable or changing.
  • Penttila 2007 provides a synthesis of marine forage fish knowledge.
  • Harper & Ward 2001 compares documented occurance of forage fish to beach classification and finds that most records of forage fish spawning occurs or a few beach types.
  • Rice 2006 observes higher mortality among forage fish eggs on beaches with higher temperature and an absence of overhanging vegetation.
  • Penttila 2001 explores egg mortality among summer-spawning fish.
  • Quinn et al 2012 found that while beach forage fish spawning is distributed around Camano Island, that most of the egg production occurs at a few beaches, associated with a northerly aspect and lower beach temperature.
  • Krueger et al 2010 suggests that that sea level rise has the potential to reduce surf smelt spawning where beach elevations cannot adjust through bluff erosion due to armoring.
  • Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has a brief summary article.
  • Theresa L. Liedtke at USGS appears to be involved in forage fish research for USGS.
  • WDFW provides a WDFW PHS Marine Map Service that provides current forage fish spawning data.
  • NOSC 2005 describes a forage fish monitoring effort in the North East Olympic Peninsula shoreline.
  • Friends of San Juans 2004 describes a forage fish management strategy based on spatial analysis of forage fish spawning in the San Juan Islands.
  • Hood Canal Coordinating Council and WDFW completed a $186k Forage Fish Study for east Jefferson County.