The Salmon Ocean Ecology Team at the SWFSC Fisheries Ecology Division originated from the Physiological Ecology Investigation at the Tiburon Laboratory, which was closed in 2000. In that research group, the relationships between physiological functions of fishes and their environment formed the basis for research on a variety of marine and estuarine species, including northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), starry flounder (Platichthys stellatus), striped bass (Morone saxatilis), and several species of rockfish (Sebastes spp.).
In 1995, the research team initiated studies of juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) as they emigrated through San Francisco Estuary and into the coastal waters of central California. Following seven years of drought in California, and considering the highly industrialized and urbanized shoreline of the estuary, it was hypothesized that transiting the estuary was detrimental to juvenile salmon originating from natal streams and hatcheries in the Central Valley of California. Greater significance was placed on the study because the Evolutionarily Significant Units (ESUs) of Chinook salmon in the Central Valley are in jeopardy. Of the three ESUs, the Sacramento River Winter Run was listed as Endangered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) in 1994 and the Central Valley Spring Run was listed as Threatened in 1999. The remaining ESU, Central Valley Fall and Late-fall Run, the largest run due in part to substantial hatchery supplementation, was considered a Species of Concern in 2004.
The research design for studies on juvenile salmon followed that of the Physiological Ecology Investigation. Data are collected to determine development in various environmental conditions or habitats. Analyses focus on growth, residence time, feeding ecology, and energy dynamics, and their relationships to natural and anthropogenic environmental variables including temperature, freshwater flow, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and contaminant concentrations.
Since relocating in Santa Cruz, California, research by the Salmon Ecology Team has expanded in scope to include reproductive behavioral ecology, small estuaries on the central California coast, ocean ecology, juvenile survival and migratory patterns, and a captive broodstock program.
Ocean salmon survey - Cruise reports
The team surveys ocean salmon to quantify the spatial distribution and physiological condition of salmonid stocks in the central portion of the California Current Ecosystem.