New Report Suggests Waters in
by Matt Markovich
SEATTLE -- The waters in the ocean off the Pacific Northwest are cooling down and that could lead to improved salmon runs. According to the newly released 2019 Ecosystem Status report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the West Coast is shifting from several years of unusually warm condition to "a cooler and more productive regime.”
The marine heat wave nicknamed "the blob” started in 2012 and lasted until 2107, and changed how biologists viewed the ocean's ecosystem.
"What we thought we knew about how the ecosystem shifted quite a bit and it put us in a situation where weren't really aware of what's happening,” said Brian Burke, a supervisory fisheries research biologist for NOAA in Seattle.
The report cites an overall increase in commercial fishery landings and revenues but also high numbers and growth of California sea lions and seabirds, which prey on salmon.
"These conditions we are experiencing in the ocean are not something we've seen before,” said Burke, who also says the warm waters from the blob brought with it predators that feed on salmon.
The endangered Southern Resident Orca feeds almost exclusively on Chinook salmon, whose runs have diminished during the years of the blob.
The report cautions against expecting a return to "normal." Burke says normal is not what the area experienced even 10 years ago.
"The concept of normalcy really isn't appropriate anymore, we are really starting to see the frequency of more extreme events,” Burke said.
That increase in frequency of extreme climatic disturbances is making it hard for ecosystems to recover before being knocked out of whack again, according to biologists.
The report forecasts low returns of Chinook salmon to the Columbia River this year, as the last survivors that entered the ocean during the warm years return to spawn. However, the outlook beyond this year points to the potential for higher returns as salmon in the ocean now benefit from the improved conditions.
Heat Waves Over the Ocean Have Ballooned and Are Wreaking Havoc on Marine Life by Jason Samenow Washington Post, 4/11/18
Sea Change: Vital Part of Food Web Dissolving by Craig Welch, Seattle Times, 4/30/14
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