The Blob allowed West Coast Rockfish to thrive and boom: NOAA

Pacific Ocean’s heat wave might have had an unintentional, albeit positive, consequence: it helped rebuild the threatened groundfish population.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Remember all the talk of El Niño, The Blob and climate change, and what all of these things could mean to the future of marine life? It turns out The Blob, which was an unusual warming-of-the-water phenomenon in a large swath of the Northern Pacific Ocean near the Equator, might have helped the West Coast groundfish escape extinction.

Scientists with Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center recently published a new research paper and credited the sudden rebirth of the groundfish fishery to The Blob, which started in 2014 and ended in 2016. The research paper was published in the journal, Fisheries.

“The high temperatures that came with the marine heat wave known as the Blob led to unprecedented mixing of local and subtropical species,” a NOAA Fisheries blog post about the research paper stated. “Out of that mix came one unexpected winner: West Coast rockfish. These bottom-dwelling species, which that had previously collapsed in the face of overfishing during the 2000s, thrived under the new conditions.”

West Coast groundfish was on the verge of extinction in 2000. Researchers and scientists predicted conservation measures would allow the species to be fully recovered by 2090. Groundfish were declared as fully recovered, however, just a few weeks ago, meaning the species managed to bounce back 71 years ahead of schedule – and The Blob, apparently, is the reason why.

“In the waning months of the Blob in 2016, juvenile rockfish increased over a large area from California to Alaska. Since juvenile rockfish are very difficult to distinguish from one another, scientists could not tell which species benefited. They could not tell what specifically drove the boom in their numbers and or whether they will support fisheries in future years,” the NOAA blog post on the Oregon State research paper stated.

NOAA’s blog post added jellyfish also played a significant role in the recovery of West Coast groundfish.

“[Scientists] suggested that the surge in rockfish may have been part of an unusual cascade of effects resulting in large part from a shift in the dominant jellyfish off the West Coast,” the NOAA blog post stated. “The typically abundant sea nettle declined in number while the less common water jellyfish multiplied to become the most abundant jellyfish in their catches. That may have reduced predation by sea nettles on juvenile rockfish, as well as competition between the species.”

The NOAA blog post added we could still see more effects of The Blob and species mixing play out for several more years.

FishRap will continue to research and follow this story as it develops.

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