Surf smelt are a schooling fish found in shallow nearshore waters along Puget Sound. Adult surf smelt feed on plankton and in turn become food for seabirds, marine mammals, and a variety of fishes including salmon.
Spawning On The Beach
Surf smelt spawn in the upper intertidal zones of mixed sand and gravel beaches, generally within a few feet of the high tide line. Spawning takes place year round on beaches along Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Semiahmoo Bay, Cherry Point, Fidalgo Bay, Sinclair Inlet, the San Juan Islands, and the outer coast of the Olympic peninsula. Fall and winter spawning occurs along Liberty Bay, Port Orchard, Quartermaster Harbor, southern Hood Canal, and southern Puget Sound. Summer spawning occurs along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Surf Smelt Spawning Beaches
Eggs are Laid at High Tide
Juvenile Surf Smelt
Although surf smelt do not die after spawning, very few survive to be three or four years old. Surf smelt show great annual predictability in spawning sites and seasons, but the degree to which they "home" back to their beaches of their birth is unknown.
Bulkheads May Damage
Bulkheads and other shoreline "armoring" devices can damage surf smelt spawning beaches. Filling and bulkheading seaward far into the upper intertidal zone can bury and destroy surf smelt spawning habitat.
Even on lightly armored beaches, wave action along the base of the structures may scour away fine-grained sediments. Armoring on long stretches of shoreline and conversion of natural streams to drainage culverts may remove sources of beach sediments to long shore drift systems. Beaches may gradually coarsen, eliminating essential surf smelt spawning substrate.
The upper intertidal zones of beaches are important habitat for surf smelt and other species. All known surf smelt spawning sites have been given enhanced "no net loss" protection in the application of Washington Administrative Code (WAC) "Hydraulic Code Rules."
Surf Smelt photos by Dan Penttila, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Related TopicsBulkheads and Change, Bulkheads can change the beach.
Bulkheads, Bulkheads can increase erosion.
Marine Beach Spawning Fish Ecology, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Includes information on smelt research.
Fisheries Management: Saltwater Forage Fish, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Includes link to Forage Fish Management Plan.
Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Answers to frequently asked questions about shoreline construction and HPA approval.
Current Hydraulic Code Rules on Bulkheads, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. These Hydraulic Code Rules apply to the construction of bulkheads for single-family residences on saltwater shores.
Comments? E-mail: Shellyne Grisham