Forage Fish Habitat Assessments

Forage fish are small fish that travel in large groups called 'schools' and are a food source or 'forage' for larger fish and marine mammals. Forage fish, including Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance and surf smelt form the cornerstone of marine food webs. They, and other forage fish species play an important role in the diets of Humpback Whales, Porpoise, Sea Lions, Seals, Salmon and marine birds.

From sand grains to whales, it's all connected

Surf smelt and Pacific sand lance lay tiny eggs (1mm) on pebble and sand beaches just below the high-tide line - an area called the intertidal zone. The number and health of these beaches play an important role in the lives of the salmon, whales and marine birds that rely on each generation of forage fish for food. Because our actions on and around these beaches can impact forage fish habitat, the Islands Trust Conservancy in partnership with the Islands Trust and the BC Marine Conservation and Research Society is surveying beaches in the Salish Sea to assess the current status of our islands' forage fish habitat.  

Forage Fish Spawning Habitat on Your Island

In 2013 - 2016, beaches on Denman, Hornby, Thetis, Gambier, Keats, Bowen, North and South Pender Islands, Valdes, Salt Spring, Galiano and Lasqueti were assessed for habitat suitable to forage fish spawning.

Take a tour of forage fish spawning habitat in the Salish Sea using the MapIT Shoreline Application (select Marine Habitats in the Layer Manager). Hard-copy PDF versions of the forage fish habitat maps are available on our Ecosystem Maps page, sorted by local trust area.

For more information about the findings of the Forage Fish Habitat Assessments, download the following reports:

MapIT Shoreline Logo
  Click on map to launch MapIT

Are your beaches critical to marine species?

Does your property look out onto a pebble or sand shoreline? Tiny fish eggs may lie just below your feet. There are steps you can take to make sure those eggs go on to support a healthy marine food web.

Manage storm-water runoff and vessel operations

Eggs need clean water to incubate. Prevent sediment, chemical or oil run-off from your property. Oiling from vessel operations near beaches can potentially cause mortality of incubating forage fish eggs. Siltation of beaches can smother tiny eggs.

Use soft-shore alternatives to protect waterfronts

Forage fish are particular in the type of sediment they lay eggs in, requiring fine sand or gravel. Physical alterations of the shoreline can disrupt the flow of sediment forage fish need. Try to avoid building breakwaters, riprap, seawalls, docks or pilings near beach habitat that may support forage fish.

Retain shoreline vegetation

Shade from overhanging vegetation keep fish eggs moist in the summer and insects from overhanging vegetation are a source of food for forage fish. Removing shoreline vegetation increases temperatures within the spawning gravel and removes a food source for young fish. On hot summer days, without shade, eggs can't survive.

For More Information


Page last updated: 19/01/21
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