Pacific Sand Lance (Ammodytes personatus) are energy-rich schooling fish that are thought to be important drivers of marine food webs in Alaska (USA) and British Columbia (Canada). Despite a number of studies characterizing their distribution and habitat use in Alaska and British Columbia, surprisingly little is known about population attributes in the Salish Sea. We compiled and analyzed 15,192 records collected from 1630 sites, primarily by beach seine or tow net in nearshore shallow areas between 1970 and 2009, to determine Sand Lance spatial and seasonal distribution in the inland waters of Washington State. Sand Lance were present along 78% of the shoreline that was sampled and were captured during every month of the year. The maximum number captured in individual nets increased between May and August. Fork length ranged from 1.7 to 19.0 cm and average fork length did not vary by month. The shortest minimum fork lengths were documented during April through July, likely representing annual recruits, but size at maturity is not known for the local population. Their widespread distribution throughout the region and peak abundance during summer suggests that they are an important potential prey source and could be a driver of marine food webs in this region.
In this issue: SeaDoc’s forage fish science makes a difference, study shows recreational surf smelt harvest can be measured accurately, give the gift of the Salish Sea, Science Prize nominations due December 18, Why I give, Dr. Gene Helfman talks on sharks for family night lecture.
Our goal is to ensure that SeaDoc science makes a difference, but does it? And if so, how? Check out this sweet new video on forage fish (above) by Friends of Skagit Beaches and the Department of Ecology.
We’re pleased Joe Gaydos gets a cameo talking about how important forage fish are, but we really want you to check out what Senator Rolfes has to say. She sponsored forage fish legislation in 2015 that funded two important studies to help the Department of Fish and Wildlife implement their forage fish management plan from the1990s, which was conceptually way ahead of its time but never adequately funded.
In the video, Senator Rolfes says she was inspired to take action by an op-ed in the Seattle Times that directly linked the decline in marine birds to the decline in forage fish.
This op-ed drew heavily on another article, this one by Craig Welch, that focused on SeaDoc’s groundbreaking marine bird population study, in which SeaDoc’s Dr. Ignacio Vilchis and collaborators were able to show that diving birds that depend on forage fish were many times more likely to be in decline than other bird species.
While the course of events varies from case to case, the take home message here is that focused, well-targeted science, like that which SeaDoc promotes, does make a difference. It’s also important to remember is that Dr. Vilchis’ large and complex 2-year science project and publication was funded by a SeaDoc supporter’s (Stephanie Wagner) legacy bequest.
So don’t forget, SeaDoc science does make a difference and real credit for change belongs to the generous donors like you who make it possible.
Abstract: Fisheries for Surf Smelt Hypomesus pretiosus in the inland marine waters of Washington State are currently managed under the assumption that annual recreational harvest is roughly similar to commercial harvest. Commercial harvest is monitored by submission of mandatory fish tickets that document sales to licensed vendors. Assessment of recreational effort and harvest is complicated by (1) the lack of a licensing requirement for fishers, (2) the fact that fishing occurs throughout the year but tends to peak during locally specific time windows, and (3) the ability of anglers to engage in the fishery from private shorelines in addition to public access points (e.g., boat ramps). To adequately estimate recreational harvest, a survey method must be developed that accounts for spatiotemporally diverse harvest patterns. Here, we report the results of a pilot study that combined access-point and roving, boat-based creel survey techniques to sample a known region of high recreational fishing pressure during the traditional fishing “season” for Surf Smelt. In addition to providing a statistically valid estimate of harvest at these locations, we described patterns of both fishing effort and catch across time, in association with various environmental variables, and at public access points and private beaches. We found that based on the sitespecific estimates generated here and the number of high-use recreational fishing sites in Puget Sound, Surf Smelt harvest has the capacity to exceed the level that has been assumed for purposes of management. We conclude that combining access-point surveys and roving creel counts represents a logistically feasible and cost-effective method for estimating recreational harvest of Surf Smelt throughout Puget Sound or harvest in any other fishery with similarly complex spatiotemporal participation.
Dragons and Vipers and Opahs, Oh My!
The Salish Sea’s famed salmon have a lot of interesting company beneath the surface. From the gumdrop-size spiny lumpsucker to the world’s second-largest fish, the basking shark, we’ve long known our inland sea was home to an amazing range of fish species. However, it wasn’t until an exhaustive new SeaDoc-funded study set out to document every species of local fish that we fully understood the diversity of these rich waters.
The study, by Ted Pietsch and Jay Orr, revealed more than three dozen fish species not previously known to inhabit the Salish Sea, adding such notables as the leopard shark, Pacific hagfish and lowcrest hatchetfish, and raising the number of local fish species to 253. Another “new” native, the opah, is a freckled orbicular oddity and one of the only known warm-blooded fish.
Beyond the wonder of knowing we share our Salish Sea with the opah and other fantastical creatures like the ribbonfish and daggertooth, and that our abyssal depths twinkle with such bioluminescent stars as the flashlight fish and viperfish, we now have a definitive list that allows us to more accurately choose which fishes best serve as indicator species — the canaries in the aquatic coal mine — to track the health of the entire ecosystem. It will also tell us when invasive species invade, and if any native fishes disappear.
This important paper proves once again that when it comes to restoring the Salish Sea, good science and SeaDoc donors really count.
Download the paper
The PDF includes about a dozen incredible drawings of local fish.
More details about the study
This study is part of a long-term effort by SeaDoc to document the fish and wildlife that inhabit the Salish Sea.
In 2011, Joe Gaydos and Scott Pearson published “Birds and Mammals that Depend on the Salish Sea: A Compilation” in Northwestern Naturalist. That paper established a baseline list of species, and has been cited numerous times in both peer-reviewed and technical papers.
Now we have a complete list of fishes. At some point we hope to take on the daunting task of cataloging the 3,000+ species of macro-invertebrates.
Knowing which species use an ecosystem and how they make their living is fundamental to restoring it.
Why is this so important? With this list, scientists will be able to document the occurrence of new species and the disappearance of existing ones. The list will be a key baseline for Salish Sea recovery. At the same time it will help scientists select particular species as indicators of ecosystem health, and it will provide a basis for identifying the mechanisms responsible for marine fish declines.
Funded by private citizens
Like many SeaDoc projects, this one was funded by individuals with a commitment to the health of the Salish Sea. Thanks to our forward-thinking donors for understanding the importance of this effort and making it possible.
The fish list has been featured in the Seattle Times, Victoria Times Colonist, Skagit Valley Herald, phys.org, Science Daily, The Stranger, the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, the Fish Site, Nature World News, and the Vancouver Sun, among others.
Abstract—As part of a current effort to restore the Salish Sea, a 16,925-km2 inland waterway shared by Washington State and British Columbia, a definitive, up-to-date list of the fishes that inhabit this marine ecosystem has been badly needed. The last such effort was published more than three decades ago. In response to this deficiency, we compiled information from various sources and identified 253 fish species observed in marine or brackish waters of the Salish Sea ecosystem, an increase of nearly 14% since the last published checklist. These 253 species, encompassing 1 myxinid, 2 petromyzontids, 18 chondrichthyans, 2 chondrosteans, and 230 teleosts, are contained within 78 families and 31 orders. This comprehensive list of the Salish Sea ichthyofauna will serve as a foundation for determining the occurrence of new species and perhaps the disappearance of others, enabling the selection of species as indicators of ecosystem health, and will provide a basis for identifying the mechanisms responsible for marine animal declines.
In this issue: Searching for newborn rockfish, wooden hats for harbor seals, thanks to our hardworking interns, make an automatic monthly donation, harbor porpoise spotting days.
When you have fish that can live from 80 to 200 years, depending on the species, recovery can be a slow process.
That’s the case with some of the 27 different rockfish (Sebastes spp.) in the Salish Sea. Many species were over-harvested and are now in need of recovery.
One important strategy is protecting the old females who produce copious young. But rockfish don’t birth a big crop of babies every year. (Yes, rockfish give birth to live baby fish.) Instead they seem to have periodic “bonus” years when numerous rockfish babies are born. As a result, it is really important to know when these massive birth years of young rockfish occur and understand the type of habitats those juvenile fish need to survive.
SeaDoc is working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, REEF, and others to help NOAA design a citizen-driven project where SCUBA divers can collect data to help us learn more about newborn rockfish, known as “young of the year.”
Last month, NOAA project lead Dr. Adam Obaza came up to the San Juans to dive with SeaDoc to test out the new dive protocol. Joe Gaydos, Dr. Obaza, and Jen Olson dove in kelp forests, eelgrass, flat muddy bottom sites and rocky reef sites to look for young rockfish and test out the survey methodology.
Young rockfish are rare, but we did manage to find one young of the year rockfish – a baby Copper rockfish hanging out in some Laminaria sp. kelp near a rocky shore. As things are with science sometimes, it was in the last few minutes of the last dive of the weekend.
We will keep you posted as NOAA rolls out this volunteer SCUBA opportunity in case you or friends want to be involved.
Often overlooked, forage fish are a key part of the food web, and they’re vital to the well-being of threatened and endangered birds, fish, and marine mammals. A recent National Geographic article by Craig Welch puts a spotlight on the controversy over herring harvest, and references SeaDoc’s important paper in Conservation Biology that showed that diving seabirds that eat exclusively forage fish are 16 times more likely to be in decline than bird species with wider diets.
Read the article:
Photo: Herring (not Pacific herring) by Jacob Botter via Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0
There’s convincing science that no-take marine reserves help recover rockfish, abalone, and other threatened or endangered species that call these rocky habitats home. But what are the economic costs and benefits of marine reserves?
Most of the existing data is about the costs of marine reserves. For example, marine reserves limit fishing, and therefore have a negative effect on the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
But very little is known about the economic benefits of no-take marine reserves.
A new SeaDoc project will quantify the economic benefit of appropriately designed no-take marine reserves to the SCUBA diving industry and local economies.
Over 100 dive shops in Washington and British Columbia train and equip thousands of divers annually. These recreational divers spend handsomely to maintain their certification, purchase equipment, travel to dive sites, procure lodging, and pay for dive charters. But no one has ever conducted an economic valuation of SCUBA diving in the Salish Sea.
Resource decisions are often a trade-off between benefits to the target species and economic impacts to the people that rely on them to make a living or for recreation. Missing from this trade-off is a proper accounting for the extra economic activity that can be created by an effort to save fish and wildlife.
Project results will have a direct impact on efforts by NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife as they consider the merits of establishing a network of no-take reserves for rockfish recovery. Results will also be shared with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada as they re-evaluate the effectiveness of their Rockfish Conservation Areas.
This project is sponsored by a generous private contribution, without which it would not be possible.
Photo by Janna Nichols.