Believe it or not, when our beaches are covered in snow, fish could be incubating and hatching in the sand just under the washed-up seaweed (wrack) where we walk. Believe it or not, their survival is linked to the survival of orcas.
Pacific sand lance and surf smelt (forage fish) are the cornerstone of the marine foodweb and make up 50 per cent of the diet of larger species such as salmon. Salmon feed larger species like orca, which reside in our waters. These forage fish are recognized as a CRA – commercial, recreational and Aboriginal – fishery and as such, are protected (including their spawning areas) by the Fisheries Act.
Believe it or not, these important wee fishies spawn all year round except when the herring (another forage fish species) spawn. This ensures that there is always a food supply for larger fish, not to mention sustaining eagles, herons, crows, ravens, etc.
The sand lance and surf smelt eggs are deposited at high tides and believe it or not, left to incubate for a month or more so are extremely vulnerable when the tide goes out. In winter, the seaweed acts as protection from the harsh winter condition and retains moisture at other times.
Lots of islanders use seaweed for garden compost without realizing the damage this does to the marine environment. There are alternative sources of compost. But these precious forage fish that sustain our marine environment don’t have alternative breeding habitat, so please give them a chance and find other sources of compost.
Other threats to these Fisheries Act-protected spawning areas include shoreline modification which includes armouring, dredging, vegetation removal and construction as well as driving vehicles on the foreshore which can crush the incubating eggs. Please check with the local bylaws for guidance.
Believe it or not, as islanders, we all have an important role to play in protecting these wee fishies.
For more information, visit https://bit.ly/2JwAK5t