Project Watershed staff and volunteers prepare to sample the beach at Frank James Park in Campbell River on Aug. 11 to assess the site for beach-spawning forage fish. Photo by Sean Feagan / Campbell River Mirror.

VIDEO: Volunteers needed to help Island group study salmon food source

Project Watershed studying poorly-understood beach-spawning forage fish eaten by young salmon

An environmental research group dedicated to studying a group of small fish species eaten by young salmon is expanding its work into Campbell River.

Operation Watershed is a non-profit citizen science initiative studying beach-spawning forage fish, local examples of which include sand lance and surf smelt. These small fish are important in marine food webs, as they are a key food source for young Chinook salmon, which in turn feed seals, orcas and shoreline birds.

Despite their importance, these schooling fish are poorly understood.

To bridge this knowledge gap, Project Watershed conducts research on beach-spawning forage fish by performing standardized surveys of beach habitats on Vancouver Island. The surveys are performed along fine- to medium-grained sandy areas at medium tide.

To conduct the survey, the volunteers first collect a sand sample alongside habitat information. Then using a series of sieves and a “reverse gold panning process,” they seperate any potential eggs in the sample from other materials. These collected samples are then transported to the lab for microscope examination to assess the number and species of forage fish eggs in each.

Operation Watershed is working to expand the surveys to Campbell River on a permanent basis, by forming partnerships with local environmental groups. Staff and local volunteers conducted a survey in Campbell River on Aug. 11 at Frank James Park. This followed a survey by the group at Oyster Bay Shoreline Rest Area.

“We’d like to have groups of citizen scientists or volunteers assist with the project, and just getting the word out through education and outreach, because our beach-spawning forage fish are just as important as our open ocean-spawning forage fish,” said Virginia East, citizen science and stewardship coordinator with Project Watershed.

Operation Watershed is supported by the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF), the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), Academic Partner (North Island College (NIC)), and the K’omoks First Nation Guardian Watchmen.

READ ALSO: DFO Enforcement Blitz of Southern Gulf Islands ‘highly successful’

Environmental groups battle invasive species on banks of Campbell River estuary

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