Surf Smelt Project

Rowen Monks - our 'coach extraordinaire' for the survey session!

Rowen Monks – our ‘coach extraordinaire’ for the survey session!

A number of months ago, PMES was asked to review, and if we felt there was value, support a project proposed by Ramona de Graff on forage fish habitats – particularly in the Burrard Inlet. Our support was to increase the chance of sponsorship to get the project going.

Long story short, we did see immense value in the project (a precis of which is below in blue text). Not only will it result in valuable information, our released salmon fry need this as a valuable food source as they head to the ocean. We have a vested interest in knowing the health of the areas that our ‘babies’ traverse.  Even better news was that the project was funded and now, the fun begins!

After some initial workshops to aquaint some of the board and volunteers with the process, the date was set for our first ‘practicum’ – surveying a beach area in Burrard Inlet, at Barnet Martine Park in Port Moody, for surf smelt embryos.  The date was Saturday, May 28th.

It was an awesome but very wet day – however the first surf smelt ‘survey training’ session on the beaches at Barnet Marine Park for volunteers from Port Moody Ecological Society (Noons Creek hatchery), Burrard Inlet Marine Enhancement Society (Mossom Creek hatchery) and Burke Mountain Naturalists. could not have gone much better.

Big shout out to Rowen Monks of Sea Watch Society for being patient with us as we learnt our stuff! Huge shout out to Ramona de Graff for initiating the ‘Forage Fish / Surf Smelt Survey’ project. The importance of this data being gathered cannot be over estimated. These tiny creatures that spawn on inter-tidal beaches are the subsistence building blocks of larger marine creatures…….we need to know if their habitat is healthy, so the food chain doesn’t crumble. Disastrous for them, and for us!!

PMES is happy to help in moving this project forward with volunteer resources, and use of our hatchery’s water quality lab & microscopes!!!

And thanks to all the volunteers that braved a VERY WET Saturday to learn some valuable new stuff – you guys ROCK!

Thanks again for the day Rowen!!!!!!!

We are looking for more volunteers that may wish to join these periodic surveys – they are fun and the practical experience you get is invaluable, particularly if you are taking fish and wildlife, environmental or biological post-secondary studies.  Contact us at the hatchery on 604-469-9106 or at

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Our mandate is to develop a network of communities and partnerships to provide necessary data and educational materials about  shoreline valued ecosystem components, specifically-spawning habitats and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat for coastal planning and ecosystem management.  The Sea Watch Society is composed of community groups, biologists, First Nations, consultants, scientists, students, stewards, and interested individuals from British Columbia to Puget Sound.

Sea Watch Society coordinates the British Columbia Shore Spawners Alliance project (BCSSA) and provides training, equipment, expertise, laboratory services, a central GIS mapping database, and educational resources ensuring scientifically credible data collection and consistent survey protocols throughout the Province.

The BCSSA Project  assesses and surveys shoreline habitats in British Columbia that support the spawning of beach spawning forage fish,  sand lance, surf smelt and capelin.

SWS/BCSSA members share resources and experiences to promote conservation of both fresh-water and marine forage fish habitats.  Field data are uploaded to GIS Atlas.  Our forage fish projects encourage agencies and granting societies to recognize and support this crucial conservation issue.   Since 2007, over 30 communities have monitored over 100 beaches as part of our citizens’ science program

Project Description:
Forage fish form the cornerstone of the nearshore marine food web as prey for hundreds of marine predators from fish, seabirds to marine mammals.  Marine shorelines of specific sediment types are critical spawning habitat for forage fishes such as surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus), Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) and capelin (Mallotus villosus).  Marine riparian zones provide critical prey resources for migrating juvenile salmonids.  Beaches supporting spawning and marine riparian zones are referred to as “valued ecosystem components”and as critical fish habitats under the Federal Fisheries Act.  Marine shorelines are critical fish habitat for many species of marine fishes throughout the Strait of Georgia (Salish Sea).

Currently, no inventory or habitat assessment has been done focused soley on the critical spawning habitats and the health of these habitats in any location of British Columbia other than the Municipality of Campbell River.   A review of major shoreline inventories in the project locations (from 1995-2013) confirms that such a project has not been undertaken. The applicant is an established expert on beach spawning forage fish habitat and such expertise is required to successfully accomplish the activities of this project.

From 2015-2016, Forage Fish Habitat Assessments (FFHA) and spawning surveys will be conducted from Port Moody, North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and Howe Sound to inform a restoration plan for surf smelt spawning habitat and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat (limited spawning surveys are required for West Vancouver due to past surveys conducted there).  Maps will be produced of potential and actual spawning habitats detected by this study.  The Marine Shoreline Fish Habitat Assessment and Restoration Plan will inform environmental NGOs, municipalities, regulatory authorities, provincial, First Nation, and Federal government agencies and guide efforts to assist habitat restoration/mitigation projects to recover declining Strait of Georgia surf smelt stocks and enhance juvenile salmonid rearing habitats.  The maps and data will also assist in assessing allocation of oil spill remediation resources.

Goal:  assist with enhancement/restoration of the ecological function of the Strait of Georgia by protecting and restoring marine shoreline habitats critical to beach spawning forage fishes and juvenile salmonids.
Objective 1:  Baseline data collection of spawning activity by beach spawning forage fish
Objective 2:  Baseline data collection of suitable  spawning habitats for beach spawning forage fish
Objective 3:  Baseline data collection of a marine species for “the purpose of damage assessment in the event of habitat contamination”
Objective 4:  Marine Shoreline Habitat enhancement/restoration plan for beach spawning forage fish and juvenile salmonids in the project area
Objective 5:  Engagement of interested stakeholders and regulatory agencies within the project area
Objective 6:  Work with local stewardship initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of marine shorelines as critical fish habitats



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