Pacific harbor seals

Harbor seals are the most widely distributed pinniped. On the Oregon Coast, you will most likely encounter the Eastern Pacific harbor seal, a subspecies found between Alaska and Baja California, Mexico. These seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They favor near-shore coastal waters and use rocks, reefs, beaches, and drifting glacial ice as haul out and pupping sites. Pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on land and half in the water. They can even sleep with their bodies nearly submerged in water, exposing only the tip of their nose to the air – a posture called “bottling.”

Despite being skilled swimmers, harbor seals face a number of threats in the ocean. There is currently no commercial hunting of harbor seals, but some native subsistence hunting of seals still occurs. Because they compete for many of the same species of fish, harbor seals are sometimes killed by commercial fishermen. Seals can also become entangled and drown in fishing nets and gear. In addition, the species is preyed upon by killer whales, sharks and Steller’s sea lions. El Niño events can decrease the animal’s food availability, which includes a variety of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.  

If you see a small shorebird scurrying over the sand, it is probably a Western Snowy Plover. There are many different types of shorebirds that are easily identified by their small to medium sized bodies, with relatively long legs and thin bills.

Western Snowy Plover
(Photo courtesy of ODFW)

Western Snowy Plovers have sand-colored back feathers and black markings on their faces and sides of their necks.  They are about seven inches long and have a wingspan of about 19 inches. They are found on the Pacific coastal areas, across both North and South America, Eurasia, and Africa.

Oregon Coast breeder

This is the only shorebird that regularly breeds on Oregon’s beaches and resides year-round between Heceta Head, near Florence, Oregon south to Cape Blanco, near Port Orford. The Snowy Plover will frequently raise two broods (or more) each year.

Young birds are very independent and leave the nest within three hours of hatching. They have an acute sense of sight and are intelligent and will forage unassisted by parents. Like their parents they are fully mobile walking, running, wading, and swimming well.

Upon parental signals indicating the approach of people or potential predators, they will flatten themselves on the ground.  

Diet

Snowy Plovers will consume many types of small crustaceans, worms, and insects. When they spy a potential morsel, they will pick it up or attempt to startle the creature into moving. Thus, if it moves, they are assured that what they caught is edible.

Human Interaction

Human activities on the beach often disturbs the Western Snowy Plover’s natural habitat and nesting attempts. Activities that frequently disturb the birds include dog walking, kite flying, off-road vehicles, and any nest disturbances.

These disturbances pushed the bird into a Threatened category under the Endangered Species Act several years ago. The bird has gradually been making a comeback, but often faces a number of human challenges.

The Audubon Society developed four recommendations to make beaches safer for birds that, in summary, include:

  • Give nests and nesting birds plenty of space
  • Keep pets on a leash (or use a different beach)
  • Clean up trash or food scraps that might attract predators, and
  • Avoid driving vehicles in nesting areas.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Western Snowy Plover (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/western-snowy-plover)
–All About Birds, Snowy Plover (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snowy_Plover/)
–Wikipedia, Snowy Plover (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowy_plover)
–Audubon Society, Snowy Plover (https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/snowy-plover and
…news/audubon-urges-beachgoers-give-birds-their-space-too)

Surf fishing is one of Oregon’s most underutilized fisheries.
There are plenty of places to fish and lots of fish to catch!

There are nine different species of surfperch found off the Oregon coast. The most popular surfperch is the Redtail.  It is popular because it is very tasty and frequently caught.

Redtails are found from Baja California northward up into Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Redtail surfperch are predominantly surf dwellers off sandy beaches.

Surfperch fishing (courtesy of ODFW)

Typically, they live in large schools in the surf zone about 30 feet from the shoreline (or between the second and fourth breaker row. They are attracted to the deeper holes and areas with high sand erosion.  

These fish concentrate just before spawning in the spring and early summer in sheltered waters such as estuaries and protected bay areas. Large numbers of these fish can be taken at this time. Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regulations are usually very generous and this fish can be released with minimal harm.  

Surfperch and Seaperch are sometimes confused. Seaperch live in kelp beds in deeper waters.

Identification

The Redtail Surfperch is a slim, oblong-shaped fish that is about twice as long as high and can weigh in at over three pounds and grow to around 16 inches long. The average size is about two pounds.

Redtail surfperch (courtesy ODFW)

This silver to white fish has eight to eleven reddish brown vertical bars on the sides. The red or pink fins have both rays and spines, and the tail is moderately forked. Coloration can vary depending on the time of year (breeding season) and age of the fish.

Prey

Surfperch prefer small crustaceans and will also dine on small crabs, shrimp, mussels, and marine worms. Sand crabs; sand, kelp, and tube worms; or clam necks and mussels can be used for bait. They will also take a shrimp pattern fly off of a flyrod.

Breeding

Surfperch breed in the fall and give birth to live young between June to August. A female will typically birth an average of 27 miniature replicas of the adults. Maximum number of young can reach 51.

Harvest Techniques

Scout out potential fishing locations ahead of time during low tides. Look for steeply sloped beaches where the waves are breaking hard, rocky areas near sandy or jetties, and places where the shore cuts inward. The best time to fish is an hour or two before high tide.

Fishing gear can be rented if desired. If you have your own set up, choose a #4 or #6 hook and secure it 24-30 inches below a 1- to 2-ounce sinker on an 8- to 10-pound line.  Sturdy flyrods can also be used.

Enjoying them

These are tasty fish and taste similar to their distant cousins (rockfish, snapper, and sea bass). Recipes for the ‘cousins’ will work just fine for surfperch. Typically, the fish is grilled whole, crispy-fried, or steamed Asian style. Filleting anything less than two pounds will waste too much meat.

You can also find these fish in West Coast Asian markets all year long whole or scaled and gutted. They may be referred to by other common names such as rosy surf fish, redtail seaperch, porgie, or Oregon porgie.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/fishing/species/redtail-surfperch and …/how-fish- surfperch)
–Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species
–The Spruce Eats (https://www.thespruceeats.com/cooking-with-pacific-surperch-1300660)