Surf smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus)

Photo not available for this species
Category: Fish
Ecosystems: Marine shorelines
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)


Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


The primary presumed threat to surf smelt as a result of climate change is a reduction in spawning habitat due to sea level rise, acting in concert with shoreline armoring -- a situation known as the "coastal squeeze." Because surf smelt utilize intertidal beaches for spawning, and the backshores of these beaches tend to be armored with bulkheads and other structures, rising sea level will effectively eliminate these habtiats. Surf smelt may also experience some physiological sensitivity to climate change since warmer and drier beach conditions have been shown to lead to higher levels of smelt egg mortality. Surf smelt sensitivity will be increased by potential changes in zooplankton prey availability. Predicted delayed and shorter upwelling systems could affect the timing and abundance of prey and lead to declines in prey availability, particularly for juveniles, though the magnitude of these impacts is uncertain. Additionally, since Washington surf smelt tend to use a small number of beaches for spawning, changes in beach habitat due to sea level rise and stronger and increased storms could lead to declines in available spawning area.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change


  • Increased air temperatures
  • Altered upwelling patterns
  • Sea level rise
  • Increased storminess
Confidence: High


This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.