Aquatic Ecosystems: Current Research

Climate Impacts on the PNW Coastal Marine Ecosystem, Fisheries, and Fisheries Assessment and Management

People Involved


Pacific sardine (Sardinop sagax) and Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) are two coastal pelagic species dominating the California Current Ecosystem and are the bases of important fisheries along the U.S. west coast. Both species reproduce off the coasts of California and northern Mexico and exhibit large-scale migrations to feed in regions off Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Their population dynamics however are very different.

Pacific hake abundance increases rapidly due to single large year classes (Figure 1), showing evidence of an interannual signal of variability. The sardine population, on the other hand, slowly increases in response to a series of strong year classes (Figure 2), showing evidence of an interdecadal signal of variability.

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Time series (data from Hessler, National Marine Fisheries Service-North West Center)

Figure 1 Time series of Pacific hake biomass and recruitment (data from Hessler, National Marine Fisheries Service-North West Center).

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Time series (data from Conser et al. 2002)

Figure 2 Time series of Pacific sardine biomass and recruitment (data from Conser et al. 2002).

Marine organisms have shown a broad range of responses to spatial and temporal changes in the environment. Hollowed et al. (2001) show production patterns of Pacific salmon and flatfish to be consistent with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), while those of North Pacific gadids (see sidebar) were shown to be consistent with the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Fast Fact

A gadid is a type of fish (Family name Gadidae). This group includes, amongst others, the Alaska Pollock and hake.

Holmgren (2001) also suggests different responses of fish species to climate variability. We hypothesize that Pacific hake and sardine respond differently to climate variability. Their response is driven by the impact of climate on their habitats at critical life history stages.

This study focuses on sardine and hake for several reasons: (1) they are an important trophic link in the California Current Ecosystem; (2) their different life histories provide for an instructive comparison; (3) they are an important component to Pacific Northwest fisheries; and (4) the data and information on these species is abundant due to their ecological and commercial importance in the California current and eastern boundary currents worldwide.

Research Questions

Selected References

For publications on the Climate Impacts Group’s (CIG) research on climate and aquatic ecosystems, please see CIG Publications.

Conser, R. J., K. T. Hill, P. R. Crone, N. C. H. Lo and D. Bergen. 2001. Stock assessment of Pacific Sardine with management recommendations for 2002-Executive summary. Submitted to the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Portland, Oregon), October.

Hollowed A. B., S. R. Hare, and W. S. Wooster. 2001. Pacific basin climate variability and patterns of northeast Pacific marine fish production. Progress In Oceanography 49:257-282.

Holmgren, D. 2001. Decadal-centennial variability in marine ecosystems of the Northeast Pacific Ocean: the use of fish scales depositions in sediments. PhD. dissertation, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.