Forage Fish Populations

North Island College is working with the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society, the K’ómoks First Nation, and other partners, to apply and test tools for identifying, mapping and quantifying important forage fish populations and their habitats. This work will contribute to the conservation of important food sources for Pacific salmon, including Chinook and Coho.

Project Dates: April 2019 – March 2024
Funding Amount: $82,400
Students Hired: 8

Students collect samples at Goose Spit as part of the fish foraging project.

Project Summary

North Island College is participating in a project with the Comox Valley Project Watershed Society (Project Watershed), the K’ómoks First Nation (KFN), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

This project is researching populations and preferred habitats of forage fish species populations that salmon depend upon. Pacific sand lance has been previously identified as important components of out-migrating and returning chinook salmon diets however, the distribution/extent of the spawning, rearing, burying and foraging habitats of forage fish is virtually undocumented for most species, including Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes personatus), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), and surf smelt (Engraulis mordax), among others. The project is addressing this knowledge gap by identifying, mapping and quantifying important forage fish populations and their habitats in the northern Salish Sea.

To identify forage fish habitat the project is validating three forge fish habitat models 1) a Pacific a Pacific sand lance subtidal burying habitat model that has been recently developed by the Ecosystem Sciences Division (DFO) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC); 2) an intertidal spawning model for sand lance and surf smelt and; 3) a foraging habitat model for pelagic feeding forage fish. Results will include maps of benthic spawning, burrowing and pelagic foraging habitats of key forage fish species in the intertidal to shallow subtidal (-30m) zones.

Information will be used to validate the aforementioned research models and use a variety of techniques (e.g., grain size analyses, environmental DNA, hydroacoustic tools) to determine habitat use and distribution of forage fish species and their key habitats. One of the key objectives of this project work is to understand and map key forage fish “hot spots” utilizing an innovative environmental DNA

(eDNA) analysis of field samples to determine presence of forage fish species.

Research Team

Georgie Harrison
Georgie Harrison, Mathematics-Science Faculty
Georgie Harrison has been teaching biology courses at North Island College since 2006. Prior to joining NIC, Georgie held teaching appointments at Vancouver Island University and the University of British Columbia. Georgie completed her M.Sc. at the University of Northern British Columbia where she studied the ecology of mountain goats in north-west Alberta. Georgie’s academic training and practical experience is in wildlife ecology and the ecosystems that support wildlife populations. In addition to her research work in BC, she also has worked in Europe and remote areas of Argentina, Botswana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Laos.
Lucas Evans
Lucas Evans, NIC Senior Lab Technician
Lucas is the Senior Laboratory Technician for NIC’s Comox Valley Campus. He holds a Masters degree in Geology and has 15 years of experience working in academic and industrial labs in North America and Australia. Lucas facilitates CARTI and NSERC activities being hosted at the Comox Valley Science labs, and believes deeply in the professional and academic development these research bodies can inspire students to attain.
Beatrice Proudfoot, CVPW Program Coordinator and Biological Assistant
Jennifer Sutherst, CVPW Project Manager & Estuary Coordinator
Samantha Schneider, Student Research Assistant
Sam is a biology and anthropology student at NIC working on various projects as both a volunteer and research assistant with Project Watershed. You can usually find her in the lab with her eye to a microscope looking for forage fish eggs, or trapsing around in nature.
Aaron Schmidt, Student Research Assistant
Aaron Schmidt is a second-year biology student at North Island College. He is hoping to complete a Bachelor of Science (forest ecology) program at UVIC in the near future. Having grown up in the Comox Valley he has a great appreciation for the outdoors and wishes to continue his future studies of the ecologies and organisms in it. In addition to his work with Mountainaire Avian Rescue society, he is very excited and looking forward to working with CARTI.

Student Volunteers

  • Angela Mitchell, NIC biology student
  • Christian Snyder, NIC biology student
  • Isabella Schmidt, Vanier High School student
  • Jaewon Kim, NIC biology student
  • Jasmin Urdahl, NIC biology student
  • Livia Hosegrove, NIC biology student
  • Matthew Orlowski, NIC biology student
  • William Lu, NIC biology student


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