Fisheries Oceanography in the California Current

We contribute to the understanding of the effects of climate change and climate variability on pelagic fisheries, with a primary focus on the ecology of fishes living in the California Current Ecosystem and other forage species.

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Researcher, Amy Hays, preserving a sample from the Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler. Photo: NOAA Fisheries

The Fisheries Oceanography Program, composed with the Ichthyoplankton Ecology and Ship Operations groups, work to contribute to the understanding of the effects of climate change and climate variability on pelagic fisheries, with a primary focus on the ecology of fishes living in the California Current Ecosystem (e.g. Pacific Sardine, Sardinops sagax) and other forage species important for fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. We comprise the NOAA component of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program which is a unique partnership of NOAA Fisheries, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. 

Fish populations are affected by where they live, where they go, and what they encounter on their journeys. That can be other fish competing for food, predators that eat them, or changes in the environment driven by climate. We produce multidisciplinary analyses to inform ecosystem based management, using long-term datasets from the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program. We evaluate and develop indices to facilitate incorporation of environmental variability into stock assessments. We serve data requests from the larger community and produce web-based summaries of cruise results. We also strive to add value to the sample time series by reprocessing archived survey samples and data using new technology and new capabilities.

We contribute to the annual summaries of the state of the California Current that provide important background for ecosystem-based management. In addition, long-term trends in key variables affecting habitats, such as oxygen have produced valuable information from the 70+ year California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations time series. We have reassessed the stock-recruit and temperature-recruitment relationships underpinning the Scripps Pier temperature index for sardine assessment. Work is now focused on developing a replacement for the existing environmental index.

Ichthyoplankton Ecology

The Fisheries Resources Division houses one of the foremost ichthyoplankton identification laboratories in the world. Researchers visit from around the globe to look at the collection, to verify or compare their samples with ours, and to receive training on ichthyoplankton identification from our world class experts. We sort, identify, measure, and count the ichthyoplankton collected during research surveys. We routinely identify eggs and larvae from the eastern, central, and tropical Pacific. Our highly trained staff cumulatively have more than 100 years of experience and maintain the most continuous, and among the best kept archives of ichthyoplankton in the world, containing roughly half a million samples and growing. Within our archive we have the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations Ichthyoplankton collection which is the longest such time series in existence, dating from 1949 to the present.

Data produced in the Ichthyoplankton Laboratory, or "Larval Lab," for short, on eggs and larvae of the schooling Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax) and other species are critical to FRD's mission to conduct stock assessments and monitor the species and health of the California Current ecosystem. Ichthyoplankton data are key contributions to the stock assessments of Pacific Sardine and Pacific Mackerel. The data have also been used in recent assessments of Bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis) and Cowcod rockfishes, and can provide fishery-independent time series information for many other fish species as well as market squid and spiny lobster. In addition, the data are used to study distribution and abundance changes of many fish species in relation to climate and ecosystem change in the California Current region as well as the eastern tropical Pacific.

Ship Operations

The primary goal of Ship Operations is the collection of ship-based data for several user groups within our division. This includes, but is not limited to, the completion of the quarterly California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations surveys in a manner consistent with the high quality standards of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program, supporting the division’s data collection for CPS biomass estimates, sample processing, data quality control checking and entry into databases, and providing advice on sea-going gear and their applications to both internal and external parties.     

Preserving continuity and consistency of the 70+ year California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations time series that an external review panel called a “national science treasure” is not to be taken lightly. Our 75 years combined experience helps to ensure that data collected by CalCOFI is of the highest integrity. For all combined surveys conducted by our group, we average 100 – 120 days at sea per year each. Approximately 80% of that time is dedicated to the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program. Data responsibilities are divided between personnel of the Fisheries Resources Division and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, making California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations a truly cooperative effort. We are responsible for collecting biological data (ichthyoplankton samples) while Scripps Institution of Oceanography staff focus on physical and chemical oceanographic measurements.  The broad spectrum of measurements collected during cruises justifies its classification as an ecosystem study.

While the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations program demands a considerable commitment from our group, it is not our only significant responsibility. Biological data collection during the summer acoustic-trawl Coastal Pelagic Species survey is one of our primary responsibilities in serving the center’s mandate to provide scientific advice to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council in support of fisheries management. In addition, a recent cooperative effort between the Southwest Fischeise Science Center and the Northwest Fisheries Science center combined time and resources to conduct an acoustic-trawl survey of both Pacific sardine and Pacific whiting (Pacific hake) in a summer coast-wide survey, often referred to as the SaKe (or sardine-hake) survey. This survey, initiated in 2012, covers the coastal region from San Diego, CA, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, during 80 days over the summer and is currently conducted on an annual basis.

After each survey, plankton samples are processed (volumed, sorted, identified, and staged) before being entered into the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations database. Once entered, the data undergo intense scrutiny as all entries are error checked prior to allowing public access. This database contains not just the results of theI surveys but of all surveys conducted by the our group back to 1939.

Resources

What is the current status of El Niño?
NOAA Climate Prediction Center: Cold and Warm Episodes based on Niño Index
CalCOFI data via NOAA ERDDAP
CalCOFI data via Scripps CalCOFI webpages
CalCOFI video - An Important Partnership for Marine Resource Management in California from Hillary Eggers Shedd on Vimeo
History of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) program

Last updated by Southwest Fisheries Science Center on August 06, 2020