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Recommendation: 15

Status: Underway

Monitor forage fish populations to inform decisions on harvest and management actions that provide for sufficient feedstocks to support increased abundance of Chinook.


Action 1

Map herring, smelt, and sand lance spawning areas throughout Puget Sound to determine how abundant these food sources for Chinook salmon are. Surveys should be conducted in conjunction with restoration and protection of forage fish spawning habitat.

Action 2

Fund inventories of existing and planned forage fish harvest levels to determine potential impact on Chinook.

Implementation Details

  • The Governor and Legislature should continue to provide funding for forage fish surveys to identify and map the critical habitat used by herring, surf smelt, and sand lance in Puget Sound. These surveys provide the only measure of abundance for any species of Puget Sound forage fish by estimating the spawning biomass of more than 20 herring stocks. Results of surveys inform shoreline development, protection, and restoration decisions that affect these species. The studies should be coordinated with efforts such as the Ocean Ecosystem Indicators work by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program, and other regional ecosystem and forage fish efforts.
  • Ongoing funding should be provided to the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Puget Sound Corps Program and to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to implement the surveys.
  • The Governor also should provide ongoing funding for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to inventory existing and future forage fish harvest levels in Puget Sound and assess impacts to their populations resulting from varying levels of harvest.

Recent Progress

The Department of Fish and Wildlife received $743,000 in the 2019 biennial budget to support this recommendation:

  • Herring egg surveys were paused in 2020, resumed in 2021, and then paused again. Herring egg and pre-spawn holding area surveys are expected to resume in 2022.
  • A study of commercial and recreational surf smelt harvest in Puget Sound had just begun in 2020 when it was cancelled due to the pandemic and was not able to be rescheduled before the end of the biennium.
  • The Washington Department of Natural Resources no longer can fund the Washington Conservation Corps crew that helped with smelt, sand lance, herring, and anchovy surveys and mapping and assisted Marine Resource Committees with sample analysis. However, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is searching for funding.
  • Habitat surveys continue to provide updates of spawning distribution and timing for surf smelt, sand lance, and herring, and spawning biomass estimates for herring.
  • The Department of Fish and Wildlife has begun sampling for anchovy spawning in response to an apparent increase in abundance in Puget Sound and recent interest from commercial fisheries.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.