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WARM AND STRANGE
Some wild things are going on along the Pacific littoral. For the first time ever, an Oregon fisherman has caught a popeyed catalufa, a tropical species that ordinarily ranges between Peru and Baja California, while a few weeks ago an Oregon crabber lifted his pot and found a fine-scaled triggerfish, native to waters from Chile to Baja. Last week, in one 15-minute trawl 30 miles off San Francisco a woman netted 16 Pacific barracuda—300 miles north of the species' regular haunts. Barracuda have even been taken off the coast of Washington, and what was believed to be a swordfish was caught off British Columbia. Dr. Keith Ketchen of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C. says, "Whether it's a swordfish or a marlin, we're not quite sure. Our people here are quite unfamiliar with beasts like that."
The unusual catches are symptomatic of large-scale temperature changes in the eastern Pacific resulting from El Ni�o, the name given to the abnormally warm expanse of water that builds up every five years or so off Peru. El Ni�o usually shows up around Christmas, but this one began to form in June 1982, six months early. It eventually covered an area the size of Canada, triggering heavy storms and flooding from Ecuador to California, the southern Rockies and Florida, and drought in many other parts of the world. Although the area initially affected by El Ni�o has diminished in size, Pacific coastal waters are still 2" to 4� warmer than normal off the lower U.S., Canada and Alaska.
Tropical and subtropical fish have shown up in unexpected numbers in this warmer water. James Squire of the National Marine Fisheries Service Center in La Jolla, Calif. reports that there has been an unusually big run along the Southern California coast of yellowfin and skipjack tuna, up from Baja California and Mexico. Anglers have also been catching striped marlin as far north as Monterey, and Pacific bonito from San Diego to British Columbia. "We've got tons of bonito on the coast and in San Francisco Bay, where the water temperature has risen as high as 66�," says Larry Green of San Bruno, who does fishing broadcasts for KCBS in San Francisco. "It's 72� in the ocean, 10� above the norm for this time of year. Striper fishermen have been taking bonito and barracuda with metal lures right in the surf." On Sept. 10, during an annual shark derby in San Francisco Bay, angler Peter Rattiger took a 13-pound, six-ounce black sea bass, the first ever recorded in the bay, near Candlestick Park.
Native species meanwhile have become scarce. Dr. Murray Hayes of the National Marine Fisheries Service Center in Seattle says that coho salmon returning to spawning rivers from California to Puget Sound are significantly smaller than usual because they haven't been able to feed normally in inshore waters. And the numbers of returning coho are down by as much as 75% in some rivers. Early returns of chinook salmon to the Klamath River in Northern California are "abysmally low," and Hayes says there have also been dislocations with sockeye salmon returning to the Fraser River in British Columbia.
Dr. William H. Quinn, an oceanographer at Oregon State, is one of several experts who think that the lingering effects of El Ni�o are actually part of a larger global climatic change that began in 1976. "Perhaps the changing climatic effects will be measured by the decade rather than season by season," says Quinn. "We don't know, when this El Ni�o episode does wind down, whether we will return to conditions as they were before or whether we are headed for a different climatic equilibrium point."
In other words, fishermen, be ready for anything.
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