The Bodega Bay salmon fishery is “very productive” so far this season, thanks to the cold waters. How long will the boom last?
One late morning in early July, Dick Ogg stared into a sea of gray. The 69-year-old Sonoma County local had just left Bodega Bay for five days of commercial salmon fishing off the coast. Thick fog, choppy waves and high winds made it a bad time for a phone call with a reporter. He was, however, able to speak for a few minutes.
Ogg, vice president of the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association, has lived in Sonoma County for 62 years and fished crab and salmon along the coast for more than 40 years.
“Current ocean conditions are probably the best we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” he said. Although the wind made fishing difficult, a surge of particularly cold temperatures attracted more salmon.
Ogg unloaded his five-day catch at Bodega Bay on a Wednesday, about 3,500 pounds or so, “right in the middle” of the pack, he said. At $6.50 a pound, hauling is over $20,000. So far this season, “everyone has done very well…it’s been a very productive year.”
The bounty comes from colder-than-normal waters, caused by a process called “upwelling,” when winds bring nutrient-rich water from deep within the ocean to the surface.
This upwelling has brought record numbers of anchovies to the central and northern California coast in recent years, which the salmon feed on. In the short term, increased upwelling is great for salmon fishing. But climate scientist Nate Mantua called for a broader perspective.
“The North Pacific as a whole is extremely warm right now, and it has been for most of this year, although this narrow strip of habitat that our salmon use along the coast has been cold and productive.” , did he declare.
“Over the past decade we’ve had a series of abnormal conditions,” said Tessa Hill, an oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Lab. “And this year, the odd condition is that the upwelling is even stronger and the water is even colder than it was in previous years.”
Upwelling is not a new phenomenon along this part of the California coast. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons the state’s fishing industry is so lucrative. But too much upwelling can cause problems by increasing the acidity of surface water. Bill Sydeman, president of the Farallon Institute, put it succinctly, “moderate is best.”
But moderate is not the direction we are heading. Some scientists believe that climate change is actually increasing upwelling – warmer air in the Central Valley is pushing west over the Pacific Ocean as wind, and these winds are lifting the ocean , bringing deeper, cooler water to the surface.
Others aren’t so sure, arguing that the only reason we’re seeing such an upwelling this year is because of the La Niña weather pattern. During La Niña events, upwelling tends to increase off the west coast of the Americas. These winds often bring drought to the southern United States and heavy rain and flooding to the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
“We’re trying to interpret this thing in real time,” Hill said. “Like studying a moving train while you’re on the train.”
Although there are multiple systems – ocean acidification, La Niña weather, rising global temperatures – at play, there is no consensus on the reason for this year’s upwelling. There is, however, a broader consensus among marine scientists that conditions will become less predictable and more extreme in the future.
“The systems are complex. Predicting and understanding exactly what they’re going to do from year to year can be difficult,” Hill said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t know whether or not climate change is impacting the coast, because it absolutely is.”
A big question on the minds of many marine scientists is: how long will abundant fishing last as global ocean temperatures continue to rise?
Coastal ecosystems that experience significant upwelling “essentially hold back the broader warming,” Mantua said. “How long will this last? And can salmon continue to find productive habitat in the ocean around these special places that exist along the west coast? »
So far, no one seems to have the answer.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about what the ocean will look like next year, the next five years and the next 10 years,” Mantua said. “Apart from, you know, we’re on our way to a warmer world. And most of the global warming caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is occurring in the upper ocean.
For Ogg, it is futile to try to predict the future. He doesn’t know what the long-term trajectory of Bodega Bay’s salmon fishing industry is. But he knows he has 15 more days on his boat, the Karen Jeanne, this season, and he wants to take full advantage of each one.
“Of course I’m biased, but it’s the best in the world,” he said. “You won’t get anything better than North Coast California King Salmon. It is the primo of the primo. And we all work very hard to keep the product absolutely outstanding.
Hill, the Bodega Marine Lab oceanographer, has spent a lot of time in fishing communities. She saw how they had to adapt to the changing ocean conditions from year to year.
“We should be working very hard to slow this rate of change,” she said, “and the only way to do that is to reduce fossil fuel emissions.”
“I think one of the dangers is if we tell people it’s so complicated, it’s so hard to predict, it’s not in our control, so there’s nothing they can do about it. The most hard about it is that there’s absolutely something we can do about it, and we’re not doing it.
You can reach editor Elena Neale-Sacks at [email protected] On Twitter @elenaneale17.