In declaring a fishery disaster, the U.S.
Department of Commerce determined that west coast commercial salmon fisheries
suffered during the warm ocean conditions of 2015 to 2017 off the coasts of
Washington, Oregon and California, in addition to the commercial sardine fishery
Commerce announced the disaster this week,
“The Department of Commerce and NOAA stand
ready to assist fishing towns and cities along the West Coast as they recover,”
said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “After years of hardship, the
Department looks forward to providing economic relief that will allow the
fisheries and the communities they help support to rebound.”
Between July 2016 and March 2018, multiple
tribes and governors from Washington, Oregon, and California requested fishery
disaster determinations, a Commerce news release said (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/media-release/us-secretary-commerce-declares-commercial-fishery-disasters-west-coast-salmon-and).
The Secretary, working with NOAA’s National
Marine Fisheries Service, evaluated each request based on the available data
and found that all but one (the California red sea urchin fishery) met the
requirements for a fishery disaster determination, Commerce said.
The determinations for West Coast salmon and
sardines now make these fisheries eligible for NOAA’s fishery disaster
assistance and the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $20 million in
disaster assistance. The Department of Commerce is determining the appropriate
allocations of these funds to eligible fisheries.
Unusually warm ocean temperatures, referred to
as "the Blob," encompassed much of the West Coast beginning about
2014, combining with an especially strong El Nino pattern in 2015. The warm
conditions have now waned, although some after-effects remain, according to a
status report by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Northwest Fisheries
Science Center in March 2018 (see CBB, March 16, 2018, “Ocean Conditions
Returning To Normal (Cooler), Salmon Returns Will Remain Depressed A Few
Those residual effects are:
-- Feeding conditions have improved for
California sea lions and seabirds that experienced mass die-offs caused by
shifts in their prey during the Blob.
-- Plankton species, the foundation of the
marine food web, have shifted back slightly toward fat-rich, cool-water species
that improve the growth and survival of salmon and other fish.
-- Recent research surveys have found fewer
juvenile salmon, and consequently adult salmon returns will likely remain
depressed for a few years until successive generations benefit from improving
-- Reports of whale entanglements in fishing
gear have remained very high for the fourth straight year, as whales followed
prey to inshore areas and ran into fishing gear such as pots and traps.
-- Severe low-oxygen conditions in the ocean
water spanned the Oregon Coast from July to September 2017, causing die-offs of
crabs and other species.
The U.S commercial fishing and seafood
industry (including imports) generated $144 billion in sales in 2015, a 6
percent decline from the previous year, and supported 1.2 million jobs, a 15
percent decline from 2014, although this is still above the 5 year average,
according to a 2017 NOAA Fisheries report. Factors such as the "warm
blob," marine toxins, and El Nino affected the Pacific marine environment
in 2015, and West Coast fishermen saw lower landings and revenue for several
key commercial species. (See CBB, May 12, 2017, “NOAA Fisheries Issues Reports
On Fisheries Economics, Status Of U.S. Fisheries,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438893.aspx.)
Even as the effects of the Blob and El Nino
dissipate, the central and southern parts of the West Coast face low snow pack
and potential drought in 2018 that could put salmon at continued risk as they
migrate back up rivers to spawn, according to NOAA.
The 2015 Fisheries Economics of the United
States is at https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/economics/publications/feus/fisheries_economics_2015/index
and the 2016 Status of U.S. Fisheries report is at http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/sfa/fisheries_eco/status_of_fisheries/status_updates.html