Tag Archives: northwest fisheries science center

Ocean Biologists Excited By Early Arrival Of Coldwater Copepods Off NW Coast

“Friendly faces” turned up earlier this year than last and for only the second time in the past four years off the Northwest coast, a “dramatic shift” that might be good news for salmon and other fish stocks.

FEDERAL BIOLOGISTS CALL IT “A WELCOME ARRIVAL,” THE RETURN OF COLDWATER COPEPODS TO THE NORTHWEST OCEAN. (NWFSC)

Federal biologists say offshore samples they’ve been collecting in recent months have been “full” of three different species of coldwater copepods, and they report “healthy” numbers of adult krill are also being seen.

“These are all good indications that the zooplankton community is transitioning back to a more ‘normal’ state,” writes Samantha Zeman on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s always interesting Newportal blog.

It’s been all out of whack since The Blob began to affect the northeast Pacific beginning in 2013, with the “hangover” from the humongous pool of too-warm saltwater continuing into last year.

“These coldwater copepods are lipid-rich and represent a productive food chain for higher trophic levels,” explains Zeman.

Their arrival also marks a “biological spring transition” that is key for coho and Chinook, with the earlier they’re seen translating to higher survival for silver salmon.

“This is especially exciting because in recent years (2015 and 2016) we never saw the copepod community transition from a warm winter community to a cold summer upwelling community, and in 2017 the transition occurred very late in the season,” Zeman writes.

An NWFSC chart showing transition dates since 1970 simply says “Never” for both 2015 and 2016.

In the former year, the annual June survey of juvenile salmon at sea was marked by emaciated coho.

A SIDE-BY-SIDE COMPARISON OF JUVENILE COHO MADE IN 2015 BY THE NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER SHOWS A HEALTHY ONE AT TOP AND A SAD-EYED ONE IN POOR CONDITION AT BOTTOM. (NWIFC)

Sampling also began turning up pyrosomes, a tubular organism that feeds on plankton and is generally found in more tropical waters, but the numbers of which exploded last year, fouling fishing gear from Oregon all the way to Alaska. A new study suggests they may be adapting to our cooler ocean and could become a permanent part of the biome.

PYROSOMES CLING TO A WESTPORT ANGLER’S DOWNRIGGER BALL DURING 2017’S SALMON SEASON. (SALTPATROL.COM)

NWFSC’s chart also shows that coldwater copepods have otherwise been present for as long as 263 days in 2007 and 252 in 2009 to as few as 29 in 1983 and 57 in 2005.

The spring transition has begun as early as March 4 in 2008 and around the first day of spring in 1970, ’71, 2007 and ’09, to as late as July 21 in 1983 and June 28 in 2017.

Meanwhile, we’re waiting to learn more about results from this June’s juvenile salmon sampling.

Last year’s turned up some of the lowest numbers of juvenile Chinook and coho seen in the past two decades, which federal biologists could translate into “lean times” this year and next for some rivers’ stocks, including the Columbia.

But with the earlier arrival of copepods, hopefully this year’s fish are faring better.

Survey Finds Good Krill Numbers Again Off Oregon, But Even More Pyrosomes

An annual spring survey off the Northwest Coast came up with some good and bad news for key stocks.

Krill — hugely important near the base of the ocean food web — and young Dungeness crab numbers were as high as they’ve been in some time, but there are even more pyrosomes off Oregon’s Central Coast and to the south than last year.

RESEARCHERS CALLED THE RETURN OF KRILL TO THEIR SAMPLING NETS “A WELCOME SIGHT SINCE THESE IMPORTANT FORAGE HAVE LARGELY BEEN ABSENT OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS SINCE THE ANOMALOUS WARMING” FROM THE BLOB. (NWFSC)

Jennifer Fisher, fresh off a 10-day survey between San Francisco Bay and Newport, reported the findings on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center blog.

“These are the most Dungeness larvae and juveniles we’ve collected in a long time, and we have not seen krill numbers like this since before 2015,” Fisher followed up via email.

That year, 2015, was the height of The Blob — the huge pool of warmer than usual water in the Northeast Pacific that messed things up at sea and on land — and it was also a year after pyrosomes first began to be found in our coastal waters.

By last year, the tropical gelatinous, sea-pickle thingies that are actually colonies of organisms were clogging fishing gear off our coast and even turned up as far north as the rim of the Gulf of Alaska, also a first.

While rockfish were observed feeding on pyrosomes, it’s not clear how their numbers will affect the food web. Another NOAA blog from last October states, “At this point, there are more questions than answers.”

But the May survey answered the question whether they’re still out there.

“The pyrosome catches appear slightly larger and the colonies are larger compared to last year,” reports Fisher.

They can be found starting about 10 miles off the coast, living on the bottom during the day and rising to the surface at night.

PYROSOMES FILL A COOLER ABOARD THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION’S VESSEL, THE BELL M. SHIMADA. (NWFSC)

The Science Center will soon conduct another closely watched spring survey, collecting information on young Chinook and coho off Oregon.

Last year’s produced very low catches while one a couple years ago found very small fish. But the resurgence of krill is a hopeful sign that the food web could be rebuilding coming out of the hangover from the Blob.

Fisher also reported on Science Center’s blog that copepods are in a state of flux between winter warm-water communities and summer, cold-water ones that come with the upwelling.

So what does it all mean?

“The krill is a good sign, but the pyrosomes are not, since they are indicative of warm water,” she says. “And the transitional copepod community is also not a great sign for salmon. But it’s still early in the summer upwelling season, so things can certainly change.”

Another Study Looks At Effect Our Drugs Have On Puget Sound Chinook

Stephen Colbert’s happy salmon probably should’ve been a little more famished-looking.

Another study on the effects the drugs we take have on some of Puget Sound’s most prized denizens has come out and it shows fish at the mouths of certain watersheds are more likely to be starving at a key time in their lifecycle.

THE LATE SHOW HOST STEPHEN COLBERT GETS A LAUGH OUT OF A HIGH SAMMY THE PUGET SOUND CHINOOK DURING A SEGMENT ON MARCH 29, 2016. (CBS)

Where the 2016 late-night skit focused on illicit drugs and how they made “Sammy the salmon” less wary of predators — “I will fight a grizzly bear!” the puppet tells the host —  the new paper shows that exposure to our medications “may result in early mortality or an impaired ability to compete for limited resources.”

According to James P. Meador of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Andrew Yeh and Evan P. Gallagher at the University of Washington, it’s most pronounced in Chinook, coveted by sport and tribal fishermen.

Essentially, the young salmon are picking up “contaminants of emerging concern,” or CECs, as they swim below wastewater treatment plants as the head for the open ocean.

The scientists did their work with Chinook gathered off the Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers and in Sinclair Inlet, and uncontaminated ones from the Gold Bar and Voights Creek Hatcheries.

An early clue there might be problems in the Puyallup and Sinclair Inlet came after half of those salmon died in transport to the lab, not unlike what happened to rainbow trout exposed to effluent in a previous study.

The study, headlined “Adverse metabolic effects in fish exposed to contaminants of emerging concern in the field and laboratory” and published in the journal Environmental Pollution in February, suggests that upgrades may be needed at our region’s poop purification stations.

“Wastewater-treatment plants have been engineered to clean out trash and remove and disinfect solids, but they mostly can’t screen out drugs that people take — and express through elimination. The drugs pass through the plants into Puget Sound in wastewater effluent,” writes Lynda Mapes of The Seattle Times, who first reported the work.

The rest of her story can be found here, and this is where to find the study.

North Pacific Recovering From The Blob, Salmon More Slowly

THE FOLLOWING IS A STORY FROM THE NORTHWEST FISHERIES SCIENCE CENTER

By Michael Milstein

Ocean conditions off most of the U.S. West Coast are returning roughly to average, after an extreme marine heat wave from about 2014 to 2016 disrupted the California Current Ecosystem and shifted many species beyond their traditional range, according to a The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site new reportfrom NOAA Fisheries’ two marine laboratories on the West Coast. Some warm waters remain off the Pacific Northwest, however.

SEA SURFACE TEMPS FROM A COUPLE YEARS AGO SHOW UNUSUAL WARMTH IN THE NORTHEASTERN PACIFIC THAT AFFECTED ALL MARINE LIFE. (NOAA)

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries Science presented their annual “ The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site California Current Ecosystem Status Report” to the Pacific Fishery Management Council at the Council’s meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif., on Friday, March 9. The California Current encompasses the entire West Coast marine ecosystem, and the report informs the Council about conditions and trends in the ecosystem that may affect marine species and fishing in the coming year.

“The report gives us an important glimpse at what the science is saying about the species and resources that we manage and rely on in terms of our West Coast economy,” said Phil Anderson of Westport, Wash., the Council Chair. “The point is that we want to be as informed as we can be when we make decisions that affect those species, and this report helps us do that.”

Unusually warm ocean temperatures, referred to as “the Blob,” encompassed much of the West Coast beginning about 2014, combining with an especially strong El Niño pattern in 2015. The warm conditions have now waned, although some after-effects remain.

Even as the effects of the Blob and El Niño dissipate, the central and southern parts of the West Coast face low snow pack and potential drought in 2018 that could put salmon at continued risk as they migrate back up rivers to spawn.

“Overall we’re seeing some positive signs, as the ocean returns to a cooler and generally more productive state,” said Toby Garfield, a research scientist and Acting Director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “We’re fortunate that we have the data from previous years to help us understand what the trends are, and how that matters to West Coast fishermen and communities.”

NOAA Fisheries’ scientists compile the California Current Ecosystem Status Report from ocean surveys and other monitoring efforts along the West Coast. The tracking revealed “a climate system still in transition in 2017,” as surface ocean conditions return to near normal. Deeper water remained unusually warm, especially in the northern part of the California Current. Warm-water species, such as leaner plankton species often associated with subtropical waters, have lingered in these more-northern zones.

One of the largest and most extensive low-oxygen zones ever recorded off the West Coast prevailed off the Oregon Coast last summer, probably driven by low-oxygen water upwelled from the deep ocean, the report said.

While the cooling conditions off the West Coast began to support more cold-water plankton rich in the fatty acids that salmon need to grow, salmon may need more time to show the benefits, the report said. Juvenile salmon sampled off the Northwest Coast in 2017 were especially small and scarce, suggesting that poor feeding conditions off the Columbia River Estuary may be lingering.

Juvenile salmon that enter the ocean this year amid the gradually improving conditions will not return from the ocean to spawn in the Columbia and other rivers for another two years or more, so fishermen should not expect adult salmon numbers to improve much until then.

“These changes occur gradually, and the effects appear only with time,” said Chris Harvey, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and coauthor of the report. “The advantage of doing this monitoring and watching these indicators is that we can get a sense of what is likely to happen in the ecosystem and how that is likely to affect communities and economies that are closely tied to these waters.”

Expanding North Pacific Orca Pods Could Be Driving Down Chinook Size

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

The largest and oldest Chinook salmon — fish also known as “kings” and prized for their exceptional size — have mostly disappeared along the West Coast.

That’s the main finding of a new University of Washington-led study published today in Fish and Fisheries. The researchers analyzed nearly 40 years of data from hatchery and wild Chinook populations from California to Alaska, looking broadly at patterns that emerged over the course of four decades and across thousands of miles of coastline. In general, Chinook salmon populations from Alaska showed the biggest reductions in age and size, with Washington salmon a close second.

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, ANGLERS AND COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN LIKE TO CATCH BIG CHINOOK — JOEL NYMEYER CAUGHT THIS 40-POUNDER IN THE SAN JUANS A COUPLE SEASONS AGO — BUT HARVEST PRESSURE IS HARDLY THE ONLY REASON THE SALMON SPECIES APPEARS TO BE GETTING SMALLER OVER TIME. A NEW UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON STUDY SAYS IT’S DUE TO COMPLEX INTERACTING FACTORS, AND RESEARCHERS HYPOTHESIZE THAT EXPANDING KILLER WHALE POPULATIONS IN THE NORTH PACIFIC ARE TARGETING BIG CHINOOK TO MEET THEIR DIETARY NEEDS. NYMEYER HOOKED HIS KING NEAR POINT ROBERTS WHILE TROLLING A HERRING BEHIND A FLASHER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

“Chinook are known for being the largest Pacific salmon and they are highly valued because they are so large,” said lead author Jan Ohlberger, a research scientist in the UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “The largest fish are disappearing, and that affects subsistence and recreational fisheries that target these individuals.”

Chinook salmon are born in freshwater rivers and streams, then migrate to the ocean where they spend most of their lives feeding and growing to their spectacular body size. Each population’s life history in the ocean varies, mainly depending on where they can find food. California Chinook salmon tend to stay in the marine waters off the coast, while Oregon and Washington fish often migrate thousands of miles northward along the west coast to the Gulf of Alaska where they feed. Western Alaska populations tend to travel to the Bering Sea.

After one to five years in the ocean, the fish return to their home streams, where they spawn and then die.

Despite these differences in life history, most populations analyzed saw a clear reduction in the average size of the returning fish over the last four decades — up to 10 percent shorter in length, in the most extreme cases.

These broad similarities point to a cause that transcends regional fishing practices, ecosystems, or animal behaviors, the authors said.

“This suggests that there is something about the larger ocean environment that is driving these patterns,” Ohlberger said. “I think fishing is part of the story, but it’s definitely not sufficient to explain all of the patterns we see. Many populations are exploited at lower rates than they were 20 to 30 years ago.”

It used to be common to find Chinook salmon 40 inches or more in length, particularly in the Columbia River or Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and Copper River regions. The reductions in size could have a long-term impact on the abundance of Chinook salmon, because smaller females carry fewer eggs, so over time the number of fish that hatch and survive to adulthood may decrease.

There are likely many reasons for the changes in size and age, and the researchers say there is no “smoking gun.” Their analysis, however, points to fishing pressure and marine mammal predation as two of the bigger drivers.

Commercial and sport fishing have for years targeted larger Chinook. But fishing pressure has relaxed in the last 30 years due to regulations to promote sustainable fishing rates, while the reductions in Chinook size have been most rapid over the past 15 years. Resident killer whales, which are known Chinook salmon specialists, as well as other marine mammals that feed on salmon are probably contributing to the overall changes, the researchers found.

“We know that resident killer whales have a very strong preference for eating the largest fish, and this selectivity is far greater than fisheries ever were,” said senior author Daniel Schindler, a UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

While southern resident killer whales that inhabit Puget Sound are in apparent decline, populations of northern resident killer whales, and those that reside in the Gulf of Alaska and along the Aleutian Islands, appear to be growing at extremely fast rates. The paper’s authors propose that these burgeoning northern populations are possibly a critical, but poorly understood, cause of the observed declines in Chinook salmon sizes.

Scientists are still trying to understand the impacts of orcas and other marine mammals on Chinook salmon, and the ways in which their relationships may have ebbed and flowed in the past. It may not be possible, for example, for marine mammals and Chinook salmon populations to be robust at the same time, given their predator-prey relationship.

“When you have predators and prey interacting in a real ecosystem, everything can’t flourish all the time,” Schindler said. “These observations challenge our thinking about what we expect the structure and composition of our ecosystems to be.”

Co-authors are Eric Ward of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Bert Lewis of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

This study was funded by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Competition For Chinook By Seals, Sea Lions Limiting Salish Sea Orca Recovery, Study Says

Despite decreasing Chinook catches over recent decades, runs haven’t increased overall and more new research is pointing the finger at the bellies of growing West Coast marine mammal populations, a hunger that may be “masking” salmon recovery efforts.

A study out today says that between 1975 and 2015, sea lion, harbor seal and killer whale appetites for the nutrient-rich salmon more than doubled, growing from 6,100 metric tons annually to 15,200 metric tons, or 33,510,264 pounds.

HUGH ALLEN SNAPPED THIS HARBOR SEAL STEALING A SAN JUANS SALMON LITERALLY OFF AN ANGLER’S LINE. (HUGH ALLEN)

That’s the equivalent of 31.5 million kings, up from 5 million 40 years ago.

 

The study was published by researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and WDFW and tribal biologists, among others, in the journal Physical Reports under the headline “Competing tradeoffs between increasing marine mammal predation and fisheries harvest of Chinook salmon.”

The rub is that the fish and finned mammals are both protected by federal laws.

While killer whales account for the lion’s share of Chinook poundage consumed — especially those packs that haunt the waters from the west coast of Vancouver Island north to the Gulf of Alaska — the study suggests that the increasing numbers of pinnipeds are impacting the ability of Puget Sound’s orcas to recover more so than our fishing seasons targeting kings.

“Our results suggest that at least in recent years competition with other marine mammals is a more important factor limiting the growth of this endangered population than competition with human fisheries,” researchers state.

Pinnipeds are infamous for stealing Chinook off anglers’ lines, but much of what they eat are actually juvenile fish — harbor seals in particular.

Those in the Salish Sea, which includes Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia, consume 86.4 percent of all those smolts eaten by marine mammals, “due to large increases in the harbor seal abundance in this region between 1975 and 2015 (8,600 to 77,800).”

“For Salish Sea Chinook salmon, strong increases in predation greatly exceed harvest; this is driven largely by local increases in pinniped abundance in the Salish Sea,” researchers write.

Overall, West Coast recreational and commercial catches have declined from 3.6 million to 2.1 million kings, while marine mammal consumption of adult salmon has risen from 1.3 million to 3.1 million.

Hatchery production peaked around 1985 at 350 million but has since declined to around 225 million a year. Overall hatchery and wild production is running between 400 million and 475 million in recent years, according to the study.

“… (L)ong term reductions in the salmon available for commercial and recreational fisheries may not reflect lower abundance of salmon, but rather a reallocation from human harvest to marine mammal consumption,” the authors write. “Because many populations of Chinook salmon in the Northeast Pacific are of conservation concern, substantial resources have been invested to improve salmon passage through hydropower dams, restore salmon habitat, reduce fishing, and otherwise improve conditions in rivers and streams to improve productivity. Collectively, these recovery efforts may have increased Chinook salmon survival or recovery, but these increases in salmon populations may be offset by salmon consumption by more-rapidly increasing populations of marine mammals and other predators.”

Columbia Basin fishery managers and others are pushing to increase lethal removals of sea lions, including most recently at Willamette Falls.

The new study, which looks at ocean impacts, found that for Chinook stocks from the Columbia south, “predation impacts have increased strongly over time and exceeded harvest in recent years.”

The Bioturbations Of Sand Shrimp: Not Just Bait, Important For Bays Too

Word of the day: bioturbating.

That’s what sand aka ghost shrimp and blue mud shrimp are doing in their little burrows in estuaries up and down the Northwest Coast 24/7/365.

Bioturbating the holy hell out of all that mud and silt and decaying plant matter and whatnot that collects on the tideflats, making it that much richer.

A RESEARCHER STANDS ON A TIDEFLAT PINHOLED WITH THE BURROWS OF SAND SHRIMP. AS MANY AS 600 CAN EXIST IN A SQUARE METER. (OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY)

All that free labor’s great for the health of the ecosystems our salmon and other critters depend on. By one estimate, burrowing shrimp filter as much as 80 percent of the water in bays.

And here you thought sand skrimps just existed to adorn a 2/0 hook with some eggs on the side!

A DIVER-AND-BAIT SET-UP RIGGED WITH A SPIN-N-GLO AND SAND SHRIMP. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

But it’s not so good if you’re an oyster in Nahcotta or Newport. All that mucking around kills the valuable shellfish, which are hugely important for coastal economies. The oysters can sink into veritable “quicksand,” quickly suffocate and die.

So in effect, the shrimp have become the northern pikeminnows of our rich bays, a native species that has to be controlled so other more financially and culturally desirable ones may thrive in the altered environments.

AS OYSTERS MATURE THEY MUST REMAIN ON THE SURFACE OF TIDEFLATS, BUT WHEN THEY SHARE SPACE WITH BURROWING SHRIMP, THEY CAN SUFFOCATE AND DIE BY SINKING INTO THE MUD. (USDA-ARS)

In Washington pesticides have been used to kill them off, but that’s caused a big stir in recent years. A state permit to use imidacloprid was issued in 2015 but then almost immediately withdrawn at the request of the oyster industry after public outcry.

A subsequently “reduced scope” application for a five-year permit to annually spray up to 500 acres of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor by hand and boat instead of helicopter is now out for public comment.

I have to admit that when I learned about the spraying, it really, really bugged me.

It wasn’t so much the self-righteous indignation of Seattle chefs, more like, should we be using that stuff in the environment, let alone to kill off key actors in it?

SAND SHRIMP. (THERESA HOGUE, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY)

On the flip side, in a Seattle Times video, you can hear the frustration voiced by a Washington State University extension agent tasked with helping oyster growers figure out a different solution.

“We beat our heads against the wall,” says Kim Patten, “and nobody has come up with any ideas. So at this point I have no idea, and I don’t think anybody else does.”

Someone might, however.

A recently posted blog by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center on these “estuarine engineers” details research into figuring out where they do well in the bay, in essence attempting to learn if it’s possible to reverse engineer things to benefit shrimp and farmers.

“If it’s an area where we would anticipate the population going down, having weak reproduction, or growing slowly—perhaps, for aquaculture, that would be a good location, because you’d minimize the interaction between the shrimp and the oysters,” Dr. Katelyn Bosley of the Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, a stone’s throw or two from Yaquina Bay, told author Al Brown.

“Or conversely, you’ll identify areas where there are fast-growing shrimp because of the high-quality, high-food environment,” she added. “Clearly, by assessing the nutritional status of the environment and knowing that shrimp live there—maybe that’s not a good place to grow juvenile oysters at certain times.”

These are the kind of solutions we should be finding.

It’s also important because burrowing shrimp, particularly blue muds, are being wiped out by an invasive isopod carried here in ship ballast that turns them into zombies that can’t breed.

Usually stopping zombies from breeding is a good thing, but it’s unclear what happens if the shrimp disappear for good — it’s possible systems will become overloaded with nutrients and experience algae blooms, posits Bosley .

With how important the shrimp are — “a key part of their environments,” writes Brown — we should be looking for ways to keep them healthy instead — and bioturbating the bays.

PLASTER CASTS OF SAND SHRIMP AND BLUE MUD SHRIMP BURROWS. THEY CAN DIG AS MUCH AS A METER BELOW THE SURFACE! (USDA-ARS)