West Coast Salmon Lag As Conditions Improve
The annual California Current Ecosystem Status Report, which informs the Pacific Fishery Management Council about conditions and trends that affect species and fishing in the entire West Coast marine ecosystem, was recently released. While there is cause for optimism, the immediate future of salmon remains bleak.
“Overall, we’re seeing some positive signs as the ocean returns to a more productive state,” said Toby Garfield, a research scientist and acting director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. After the extreme marine heat wave from 2014 through 2016 disrupted the California Current ecosystem, ocean conditions across most of the West Coast are returning to average. However, some aftereffects persist.
The central and southern parts of the West Coast face low snow pack and potential drought in 2018, putting salmon at risk as they migrate back up coastal rivers to spawn. And while plankton species, the foundation of the marine food web, have shifted back slightly toward the fat-rich, cool-water species that improve the growth and survival of salmon and other fish, recent research found fewer juvenile salmon, and consequently adult salmon returns will likely remain depressed until successive generations benefit from improving ocean conditions.
Salmon may need more time to show the benefits, the report said. Specimens sampled off the northwest coast in 2017 were especially small and scarce, suggesting poor feeding conditions linger off the Columbia River estuary. Juvenile salmon that enter the ocean this year will not return to spawn in the Columbia and other rivers for two years or more, so fishermen should not expect adult salmon numbers to improve much until then.