by Paul Dinnel, PhD
Several phases of restoration work were carried out from 2012 to 2015 on Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park. About 1,000 ft (1.24 acres) of shoreline were restored to a more natural state by removing a creosote-treated bulkhead, the fill behind it and by planting native vegetation in the nearshore area. Partners in the effort included Washington State Parks, Northwest Straits Foundation, Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Salmon Recovery & Funding Board and many volunteers of Island County Sound Water Stewards. Not only has this project removed toxic creosote from the shore, it has helped to restore forage fish habitat for spawning surf smelt and sand lance. These are both important base-of-the-food-chain fish for salmon, marine birds, marine mammals, Orcas and us! Indeed, one of the favorite places to jig for surf smelt and herring is at the Cornet Bay dock.
To assess the effects of the restoration effort, pre- and post-restoration monitoring were conducted from 2009 to 2016 (with additional monitoring in 2020). The monitoring consisted of using an 80 ft. beach seine to monitor fish usage in the area and sampling beach sediments to check for the presence of forage fish eggs. Beach seine sampling showed that the Cornet Bay area is especially important juvenile salmon habitat. Over 90% of the fish caught in the seine samples were juvenile salmon. In addition, chum salmon dominated in odd years (~5,000 to 14,000 per year) and pink salmon were plentiful in even years (~3,500 to 49,000 per year), with a smattering of Chinook and coho salmon. Other marine fish included sculpins, juvenile flatfish, gunnels (a favorite of herons), surf smelt and shiner perch. Of special importance is the question of use of the beach by forage fish, especially surf smelt that deposit their eggs in sand/gravel very high on the beach. In 2016, smelt eggs were found in the control area next to the restored shoreline and, in 2017, in the restoration area. So, it appears that in some locations like Cornet Bay “if you build (restore) it, they will come”. For more information, including annual reports, go to: https://www.islandcountymrc.org/projects/cornet-bay-restoration/.
And, when you get a chance, check out the Cornet Bay restoration site (to the west of the boat launch ramps) and perhaps bring a fishing pole with a smelt jigging setup to sample forage fish (best at high tide) for your table!