Salmon Steward


Salmon Steward is the official publication of the Pacific Salmon Foundation in British Columbia, Canada

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8 FALL/WINTER 2019 PSF.CA P acific herring are a focus of study and frequent debate in the Salish Sea due to their historical value to commercial and First Nations fisheries. But much less is known, or discussed, when it comes to their close cousins: Pacific sand lance and surf smelt. The importance of sand lance and surf smelt to marine ecosystems and salmon is undeniable. Sand lance alone support 45 species of sport and commercial fish. Herring, sand lance and surf smelt are all classified as forage fish because of their role in the ecosystem. They are small schooling fishes that feed an extensive array of larger animals in the marine food chain. Unfortunately, the role of these critical links in the food chain has been underappreciated for many years. As climate change and sea level rise threaten their habitat, there is an urgent need to better understand these creatures. Haley Tomlin is the assistant research and community engagement coordinator at the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI) at Vancouver Island University, which will be mapping sand lance and surf smelt habitat through the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project. "The project will fill key gaps in our understanding of when and where they spawn, allowing us to determine which areas may require protection, and how we can develop our coastline with their needs in mind," Tomlin says. "This will become more important as climate change and rising sea levels pressure municipalities along the coast." Sand lance and surf smelt spawn on shoreline beaches that are vulnerable to the installation of "hard armouring," which includes structures like sea walls, boat ramps and ports that alter the energy of waves along coastlines. Pounding waves can change the natural function of beaches, removing sand from one area and dumping it in another. Also, hard armouring along with strong waves can result in hard packing sand that makes it difficult for forage fish eggs to sink away from predators, or receive oxygen when they do sink in. "This is an excellent, low-cost citizen science initiative," says Michael Meneer, president and CEO for the Pacific Salmon Foundation. "We'll be getting vital data on forage fish habitats all around the Strait of Georgia while engaging communities in stewardship." Tomlin will be working with community groups from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, and students from Nanaimo and Ladysmith. "New methods are making this project more accessible and feasible to involve the public," Tomlin says. "It's great, because if the public is learning about what's beneath their feet, they'll be much more likely to steward and advocate for its protection." PSF's Salish Sea Marine Survival Project enlisted volunteer anglers to capture salmon and study their stomach contents. While herring is a known food source for salmon, the study found other forage fish species that are just as important. But there is a giant gap in our understanding of these species. LITTLE FISH, BIG IMPACT A better understanding of forage fish is key to safeguarding salmon Haley Tomlin (holding spatula) demonstrates the "vortex" method for separating forage fish eggs from beach sediments. The new method is simpler than past ones — which required specialized skills — enabling increased engagement of citizen scientists. SALISH SEA THIS PROJECT WAS FUNDED THANKS TO A $5-MILLION CONTRIBUTION BY THE B.C. GOVERNMENT FOR 2019-2024.

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