[Repost from February 11, 2022]

At the January 20th Annual general meeting of the Friends of Cortes Island society, or FOCI, Arlene Tompkins gave a presentation on the Forage Fish Monitoring project.

Forage fish, also called prey fish or bait fish, are small pelagic fishwhich are preyed on by larger predators for food. Predators include other larger fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Typical ocean forage fish feed near the base of the food chain on plankton, often by filter feeding. They include particularly fishes of the order Clupeiformes (herrings, sardines, shad, hilsa, menhaden, anchovies, and sprats), but also other small fish, including halfbeaks, silversides, smelt such as capelin and goldband fusiliers.  Historically they have been a commercially harvested order on this coast and globally still account for about a 3rd of the fish catch – which is primarily used for raising livestock.

Arlene described the goals of the project as intended to determine the location, timing and habitat preferences of spawning forage fish, especially surf smelt and pacific sand lance.

Additionally, the effort is intended to bring awareness to these important fish and encourage their protection from impacts by humans through pollution and habitat destruction through shoreline development.

The team monitors two sites at Manson’s Landing Provincial Park and one at Smelt Bay.

Samples of sand are taken, reduced, filtered and then examined under microscope to find the eggs.

So far the team hasn’t found any surf smelt eggs, but has found pacific sand lance eggs many times.  The fish around Cortes seem to spawn a little earlier in the year than the rest of the Salish Sea.

FOCI’s monitoring activities – courtesy Arlene Tompkins presentation

The project has many contributing partners.

World Wildlife Fund Canada initiated the effort, with UBC and DFO providing methodology and Project Watershed Society out of Courtney coordinating monitoring groups such as the Friends of Cortes Island Forage Fish team.

Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Research Group provided much of the training to monitoring volunteers.

To get in touch with the project, contact the friends of cortes island – which you can do through their website friendsofcortes.org.

Disclosure: Max Thaysen is the President of FOCI

All photos taken from Arlene Tompkins Forage Fish Monitoring project presentation at the FOCI AGM.