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Ocean conditions in Oregon among best for fish in 50 years

December 19, 2008 |  5:54 pm

Chinook Ocean conditions for many fish species in the Pacific Northwest, including chinook salmon, were greatly improved in 2008 because of a huge cold-water influx that settled in across much of the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists who surveyed coastal waters from Newport, Ore., to LaPush, Wash., found the highest numbers of juvenile chinook salmon this year than they have seen in the 11 years that sampling has been done, which suggests that the Northwest could see a salmon boon once these fish mature and migrate back to their home rivers.

The increase may be traced to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a climate pattern that has shifted between cool and warm cycles in periods of 20 to 30 years. This year, the PDO was cooler than it has been since 1955, according to Bill Peterson, an NOAA-fisheries biologist at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, who is also affiliated with OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"We usually see cold water conditions for a few months once upwelling begins in late spring and early summer," Peterson stated in an OSU press release. "Since April of 2007, though, we've been in a constant 'summer-state' ocean condition, which is something we've never seen in more than 20 years of sampling. And we're not sure why."

This condition has fueled phytoplankton growth, which are rich in fat and provide food for small fish. These small fish in turn become food for salmon, lingcod and other marine life. Researchers have said that the seabirds are looking very well-fed as well.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: Kimberly White / Getty Images