FRIENDS of the San Juans recently spearheaded the restoration of a documented surf smelt spawning beach along Blakely Island’s Thatcher Bay.
Surf smelt are a food source for larger fish, seabirds and mammals. Loss of forage fish can lead to less salmon, seabirds and whales, decreasing wildlife viewing and fishing opportunities for all of us.
"Forage fish are known to lay their eggs on only 10 miles of beaches in San Juan County. Protecting and restoring this critical habitat is crucial for the health of the marine environment and efforts to recover Puget Sound Chinook salmon,” said Tina Whitman, FRIENDS’ Science Director.
The project uncovered 5,300 square feet of habitat that had been buried under rock and fill for over 60 years, and then replenished it with a combination of pea gravel and sand. This sandy “fish mix” is where surf smelt spawn along the uppermost portions of the beach.
Beginning in 2008, FRIENDS’ Science Director and geologists and engineers from Coastal Geologic Services and the Conservation District worked with the private landowner to develop a plan that would enhance spawning habitat while still meeting access needs on this non-ferry serviced island.
As a result, an old log handling facility and 110 dump truck loads of concrete, metal, rock and fill were removed from the shoreline. In addition, an access road and barge landing site were redesigned and their footprint greatly reduced.
Blakely Island-based Blue Dog Construction performed the work. The project received funding from the private landowner and a Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant. FRIENDS will monitor the newly restored beach for surf smelt spawning activity.