Tag Archives: the blob

North Pacific Recovering From The Blob, Salmon More Slowly


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.


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.”

Fee Hike Dead, WDFW Hopes For General Fund Infusion Instead

It’s now very unlikely Washington hunters and anglers will have to pay more for their licenses any time soon, as it appears WDFW’s fee increase bill is dead for the year.

That word this morning from the agency’s legislative liaison, Raquel Crosier.

“I think we’ll get between $5 million and $10 million in General Fund to deal with budget shortfalls. It’s not as much as we’d hoped for, but it plugs holes,” she said.

Crosier said that $10 million would still require deep cuts, “but not public-facing” ones, meaning they could be dealt with through efficiencies away from the eye of sportsmen and state residents.

As it stands, lawmakers are wrapping up their second special session today, with the third starting tomorrow. Crosier is optimistic a 2017-19 budget with funding for WDFW will be worked out before the June 30 deadline. Though McCleary may not be resolved, that would at least prevent closing fisheries and shuttering hatcheries till a deal is struck.

WDFW’s fee increase proposal — seen by some sportsmen as a done deal but actually requiring the legislature to approve and governor to sign into law — was the subject of a long campaign stretching all the way back to August 2015, when the agency took its Washington’s Wild Future initiative on the road around the state.

June 2016 saw the revealing of proposals, which would have raised around $26 million to help maintain and increase fishing opportunities and enhance hunting ops.

It included $17 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon, later whittled down to $10 apiece in the face of opposition.

This February, the proposal received a public hearing in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which helped identify stakeholder concerns and that more work was needed outside Olympia with fishing and hunting groups on HB 1647.

Crosier said that as recently as a month ago, recreational organizations were supportive of 20 percent increases on the fishing side and 7 percent on the hunting side.

But while the Democratic-controlled House preferred the fee-based approach, Republicans who control the upper chamber did not, and it really showed in the language and approaches senators took with WDFW throughout this year’s legislative sessions.

When agency honchos talked about support from constituents, senators pointed to stacks of emails and letters expressing opposition.

If it had been approved, it would have been the first major hike since mid-2011, but to a degree, WDFW’s big ask also faced bad timing.

True, it may really need more funding, but on the backside of some stellar years of fishing, these past two have seen generally poor salmon runs and unprecedented fishery restrictions due to The Blob, the loss of access to Skokomish River kings and coho and the subsequent backing away of support for fee increases by three important angling organizations, as well as self-inflicted wounds such as the unexplained loss of a couple hundred thousand steelhead smolts from the state’s last best summer-run river, all of which left sportsmen wondering why they should pay more for less.

Despite the apparent death of license fee hikes this go-around, WDFW is hopeful two other revenue bills will pass.

This morning, the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to extending the Columbia River endorsement another two years, key for holding salmon and steelhead seasons in the basin.

Crosier said it’s likely the legislature will pass Sen. Kirk Pearson’s SB 5947, with fees going towards monitoring fisheries that occur on or amongst ESA-listed stocks.

And she is also hopeful that legislation addressing the rising threat to Washington waters from aquatic invasive species passes. Sen. Jim Honeyford’s bill has twice been approved unanimously by senators, but keeps getting shuttled back to the House as special sessions end and begin again.

Dipping into the General Fund for however much would begin to fill the $40 million cut out of WDFW’s budget from that source in 2009.

Looking further down the road past the hoped-for infusion, Crosier also mentioned creation of a conservation task force to look into how to better fund nongame management.


Mayday! Columbia Springer Run Sets New Low Through April

Ever try to start your rig and it just won’t turn over?




That’s what comes to mind this morning as I look at the spring Chinook count.

Faced with high, cold flows pumping down the Columbia, the 2017 run has had a heckuva time getting going. Only 10 through March 15, triple digits not reached till April 8, the thousand-fish mark breached April 21, just under 3,350 through yesterday.



The collection of emails from Fish HQ with the words “record low” is slowly building towards grimmer signs.

The Bonneville tally through yesterday, April 30, is less than 60 percent of the old record low for the same date, and not even 6 percent of the 10-year average.


A total of 3,347 have been counted, well below 1949’s 5,770, the former record low.

And it’s a fraction of 1998’s and 1999’s very low runs in the upper 30,000s, though those appear to have been early-timed returns.


“Weird year. Washington Lower Columbia hatcheries are on track based on the preseason forecasts,” says fisheries biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “Willamette only has 16 fish through the falls fishway through April 27.”

“Flows, water temps, and pinnipeds all probably are affecting the counts,” he adds.

It almost felt like the run was going to turn over coming out of April’s second fishery extension. Good numbers were caught, especially below Bonneville.


But in the week after it closed, the count didn’t do much.

Elizabeth Daly at Oregon State University wonders if fishcounting devices at the dam have been affected by water conditions, but she has her doubts that high flows are slowing the progress of springers upstream.

Daly, a senior faculty research assistant at OSU’s and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies in Newport, was a coauthor of a paper published earlier this year that predicted this year’s springer run could come in well below the forecast of 166,000-plus above-Bonneville-bound fish.

She says the paper didn’t give a specific forecast, but gave a range of 200,000 down to 80,000, based on different indicators.


Bill Monroe had an interesting tidbit in an Oregonian article that came out 10 days ago. He wrote:

John North, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Columbia River program, said a rough look at 152 coded wire tags recovered by fish checkers from anglers showed nearly a quarter of the salmon were close to the 24-inch mark.

However, he said, all were 4- and 5-year-old adults.

When this year’s returning adults went to sea as juveniles in summer 2015, The Blob was at its strongest, most destructive for Northwest fish and wildlife.

Offshore surveys found spring Chinook that were “thin, with empty stomachs, just not doing well,” says Daly.


“That first year is really critical to survival to adulthood,” she says.

Many probably died, starved or eaten.

Perhaps for some reason this year’s springers are just behaving differently, Daly wonders.

Similar to the adult count, jacks are just 2 percent of the 10-year average. Packed with fat for their long upstream journeys to spawning grounds they’ll visit in summer, maybe springers can afford to wait a bit for better flows.

But on the other hand, steelhead don’t appear to be having issues at Bonneville. Though this year’s return is below the average over the past decade, that rate held steady through April.

This speculation springs to mind: Perhaps a Blob-hamstrung year-class just doesn’t have the strength to swim upstream in the face of such cold volumes of water pouring downstream?

I call this my “have your springer and eat it too” theory.

For the time being, me and Daly will continue watching the dam count — “every day,” she says — hoping there’s some gas in the tank somewhere.