Forage Fish Program
Pacific sand lance (PSL), Ammodytes hexapterus, are small (6–8” long) schooling fish that represent a critical component of the marine ecosystem; they provide the critical linkage in the marine food web between the lower and higher trophic levels. PSL provide forage/food, for some 45 species of fish, 40 species of seabirds and 12 species of marine mammals.
PSL spawn IN the sand at the highest reaches of the intertidal (10’–14’ tidal range) over the winter months. The females literally “swim” through the sand to deposit their eggs, which are then fertilized by large schools of males releasing sperm into the waters above. The fertilized eggs are sticky and attach to grains of sand (see photo) which act like ballast to hold them IN the sand; hatching occurs in 30 days.
FOCI was invited to participate in a coastal initiative to document forage fish spawning activity from Victoria north to Campbell River. Project Watershed Society, based in Courtenay, coordinates the initiative from Deep Bay north to Campbell River and into the Islands. Project Watershed’s forage fish brochure is found here: The Spawn Is On! (pdf).
We initiated sampling at Manson’s Landing in November of 2019, and positively identified strong spawning activity through to closure of the spawning window first week of February, 2020. Our 2020/2021 sampling season has confirmed the same. Samples of sand are collected along a transect line, then sieved and vortexed; a few teaspoons of sand giving us information on occurrence, abundance and egg development. Pacific sand lance eggs are only 0.6 to 0.8 mm in diameter, microscopic in size, so we detect them by placing our sand samples under 120x magnification. The Cortes Wild! EcoLab provides us with the microscopes and the lab space to carry out this research.
Read the recent Canada’s National Observer article featuring Team Sweevy on Cortes Island: West Coast citizen science project mapping the scale and importance of forage fish. The name Team Sweevy comes from the name the old-timers on Cortes Island called forage fish, which they seasonally harvested for food and garden supplements.
Learn more about forage fish facts in these articles: The Secret Lives of Forage Fish (pdf) and the Forage Fish Backgrounder (pdf).
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Friends of Cortes Island Society (FOCI) is a charitable organization that has been active for over 25 years. Our organization exists to monitor and preserve the health of local ecosystems, and to provide educational programs that foster a greater understanding of the natural environment. Through all of our projects, we work to promote environmental integrity through community responsibility.