Fisheries Oceanography

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Fisheries Oceanography Program: The primary goal of the Fisheries Oceanography Program is to contribute to the understanding of the effects of climate change and climate variability on California fisheries, with a primary focus on pelagic fisheries and forage species. 

Fisheries oceanography program structure

Weber sampling grid
Grid pattern of 3.3-line by 10 station cells in the core CalCOFI sampling area (CalCOFI lines 76.7–93.3). Color key indicates the actual number of sorted oblique tow samples collected within each cell for the period 1951–2010. Black dots indicate the actual sample locations (Ed Weber, NOAA Fisheries SWFSC).

Ecosystem state: Summaries of the state of the California Current provide important background for ecosystem based management. In addition, long-term trends in key variables affecting habitats, such as hypoxic levels of oxygen have produced valuable information from the 60-year CalCOFI time series.

Primary Activities: We produce multidisciplinary analyses to inform ecosystem based management, using long-term datasets from the CalCOFI program. We evaluate and develop indices to facilitate incorporation of environmental variability into stock assessments. We serve data requests from the larger community and produce web-based summaries of cruise results. We also strive to add value to the CalCOFI sample time series by reprocessing archived survey samples and data using new technology (Zooscan) and new capabilities (characterization of mesoscale features from remote sensing data).

Sardine spawning habitat: Spawning habitat is thought to mediate climatic effects on small pelagic fish. Our group developed predictive models of spawning habitat of sardine and anchovy. We also showed how spatial variability affects these relationships and provided insight into environmental variables that can be used to predict the probability of finding sardine and anchovy eggs.

Evaluating environmental indices: Stock-recruit-environment indices needs to be re-evaluated in the light of new data. We have reassessed the stock-recruit and temperature-recruitment relationships underpinning the Scripps Pier temperature index for sardine assessment. Work is now focused on developing a replacement for the existing environmental index.

Recent Program Publications

What is fisheries oceanography?

Fisheries oceanography originated from the recognition that to understand the fluctuations of commercial fisheries it would be necessary to study the processes driving the distribution, abundance, migrations, and recruitment of fish in the context of the variability of their abiotic and biotic environment. In other words, fish populations are affected by where they live, where they go, and what they encounter on their journeys. That can be other fish competing for food, predators that eat them, or changes in the environment driven by climate. Modern fisheries oceanography uses an impressive array of techniques to address multidiciplinary questions such as "How does climate variability affect pelagic fisheries?"

FAQ on climate variability and fisheries


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What are the broad goals of the fisheries oceanography program at SWFSC?

In the wider context we are addressing how climate variability and climate change affect California's fisheries. Our focus is on small pelagic fish (for example sardines), but extends to squid and also to krill, which are important forage for fish, seabirds and marine mammals. We use statistical analyses of long-term datasets derived from the CalCOFI program to quantify how climate influences the habitat of sardine and squid. Our research also aims to develop environmental indices that can be used as inputs to improve stock assessments.

NOAA FishWatch links for key species

Market squid The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer  
Pacific sardine The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer  
Northern anchovy The previous link is a link to Non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries Disclaimer  

113 Station

CalCOFI Data Links
Ray Troll plankton
© Ray Troll and NOAA, 2008

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Last modified: 2/27/2015