A new report shows cooler waters on the West Coast were sandwiched between a marine heatwave and historically hot, dry conditions on land in 2021. NOAA Fisheries researchers from the Northwest and Southwest Fisheries Science Centers presented these findings to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
The California Current extends from California to Washington. The annual California Current Ecosystem Status Report captures the big picture of the biology, climate, physical, and social conditions of the marine ecosystem. The assessment informs fisheries management by showing how the ecosystem is connected and changing. This, in turn, affects the distribution and abundance of marine species from salmon to whales.
Continuing Recent Cooling Trend in 2021
In 2021, the California Current continued a recent cooling trend, with researchers recording the coolest conditions on the continental shelf in nearly a decade. These cooler coastal waters resulted from strong wind-driven upwelling—nutrient-rich, deep ocean water coming to the surface. Most recent upwelling conditions
The combination of cool, productive waters fuels the food web. Researchers reported good feeding conditions for many species. Fat-rich copepods, or small crustaceans, were highly abundant off the coast of Oregon. This created favorable conditions for juvenile salmon in Washington and Oregon. Further south, there were high abundances of anchovies and above-average sea lion pup counts. Seabird colonies on Southeast Farallon Island off central California and at Yaquina Head, Oregon experienced average to above-average productivity.
“The pattern of three regimes in 2021 with cool upwelled water over the shelf and slope providing a productive habitat between the more stressful conditions offshore and on land may foretell how the California Current will respond under warming conditions. This year’s Ecosystem Status Report summarizes the good and the bad while linking the three regimes together,” said Toby Garfield, one of the report’s lead editors from NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
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