Ocean conditions off the Pacific Northwest seem to be returning to normal after a three-year spike in water temperature.
It’s promising long-term news for fishermen who are looking ahead in the short term to yet another year of low salmon returns.
The extended marine heatwave of the past few years has been nicknamed “the Blob.”
“The high pressure system over the North Pacific basically got stalled out and stuck there. And so the ocean warmed up about 6 degrees Fahrenheit,” NOAA’s Toby Garfield said.
Then a strong El Niño came through that reinforced these conditions.
“There have been a number of these events, these marine heat waves, that have occurred in the North Pacific. But the one we had in ’13, ’14, ’15 was the by far the largest in the record going back 45 years,” Garfield said.
And the effect on sea life was serious. Whales, sea lions and seabirds starved because the warm water didn’t support tiny nutrition-rich plankton called copepods at the base of the food chain.
Within the past year, the El Niño effect has dissipated, and other longer-term climate cycles are shifting back toward a more average level.
The return to more normal conditions is promising, but the West Coast fishing industry is still cautious. “The problem is that normal itself appears to be changing because of long-term climate change. We have a lot of problems in the ocean and a lot of changes in the ocean, and those are very worrisome,” said Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.