West Coast Waters Grow More Productive with Shift Toward Cooler Conditions

After the “warm blob” of 2014-2016, NOAA Fisheries researchers developed criteria to identify and track marine heatwaves. This helped NOAA Fisheries track a large and intense, but short-lived marine heatwave in late 2018.

March 2019

The ocean off the West Coast is shifting from several years of unusually warm conditions marked by the marine heat wave known as the “warm blob,” toward a cooler and more productive regime that may boost salmon returns and populations of other ocean predators, though it is too early to say for certain, a new NOAA Fisheries report says.

The 2019 ecosystem status report for the California Current Ecosystem that was presented to the Pacific Fishery Management Council this week notes overall increases in commercial fishery landings and revenues (with a few notable exceptions), as well as higher numbers and growth of California sea lions and some seabirds.

“This is a time of transition in the California Current Ecosystem, and the ocean and marine life reflect that,” said Chris Harvey, an ecologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, and co-editor of the report. “What we don’t know yet is where the transition will take us – whether the system will stabilize, or keep changing.”

The report cautions against expecting a return to “normal,” given the continuing wide variability of conditions in recent years. This perspective echoes other recent reports from around the world that note the increasing frequency of climatic disturbances is making it hard for ecosystems to recover before being knocked out of whack again.


For additional information:

Garfield et al. 2018. Ecosystem Status Report of the California Current for 2018: A Summary of Ecosystem Indicators Compiled by the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Team (CCIEA). NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NWFSC-145

California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA)

Contact Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Environmental Research Division (ERD)