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Commerce Department Declares West Coast Fishery Disaster, 2015-17; Warm Water Impacts
Posted on Friday, September 28, 2018 (PST)

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 off California.


Commerce announced the disaster this week, Sept. 25.


“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 (


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 Years,”


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 ocean conditions.

-- 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,”


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 and the 2016 Status of U.S. Fisheries report is at


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