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Monday, June 05, 2006
Albacore show in CA, Upwelling season in WA
It's time to make a move. Sea surface temperatures south of Point Conception, CA., are warming up over prime squid temperature (11 - 14 C). The hope is that squid will pour into Monterey Bay and our efforts will locate there with our newly rebuilt lightboat. Most likely, our Papa George will transit the West Coast waters moving North to the summer sardine grounds based in Astoria, OR and Westport, OR. It is no accident that sardines congregate off our shores here in Washington. Before WWII , when the last 50 year cycle of sardines peaked, the center of effort was in Grays Harbor and Astoria as well as the famous Cannery Row in Monterey, CA. The Gray's Harbor sardine plants strictly rendered the fish into oil and meal. Today, the WA coast sardine has many uses, only a minor one being reduction to fish pellets.

Sardines, albacore, actually all fish congregate around sources of food. In Washington, the strong northwesterly winds in the late Spring and early June cause the upwelling of nutrient rich water which feeds masses of phytoplankton....perfect sardine food. Then sardines are a choice prey of albacore. Our family business relies on this seasonal upwelling from early June to late September.

The local currents off the West Coast contribute to the upwelling. The dominant current in the summer flows South, but storms and freshwater river runoff create anomalies. The submarine canyons off the Northwest Coast and the Southwest Coast of Washington promote more upwelling. It is no coincidence that in the 2000-2004 summer seasons that the largest biomasses of sardines were near the Astoria and Quinnault Canyons. Last year the sea surface temperatures were three to five degrees warmer than normal on our grounds. The larger sardines moved up to the Juan de Fuca area and parts North. There is usually good albacore fishing in June on the edges of this canyon when the upwelling is strong. There is a surface current called the Juan de Fuca gyre which rotates in varying strengths off The Northwest Coast and Vancouver Island. Albacore congregate at the edges of currents such as this because bait fish tend to mass around the phytoplankton. This gyre concentrates nitrates, phosphates, and silicates which are necessary food for phytoplankton.

The top of the food chain finds our major nemises the sea lions and seals. Albacore fishing rarely finds these common marine mammals off shore in the blue water, but sardine fishermen see plenty of the thieving critters. Often they cruise along near the boat waiting for our most vulnerable moment, when the net is all set out. Then they dive over the corkline and help themselves to a free meal. They thumb their noses at us by surfacing with a mouthful of sardines, the heads and tails shining through their whiskers. They bite many holes in the net, not to get out, but to get in! We always lower the corks to free them and they are never grateful.
The most damage sealions do to us is chase the sardines out of the net. Fishing is hard dangerous work and to have to do it over and over because the sealions interfere gets exasperating. Usually when we see lions in the area we move to a different spot and hope they don't follow.

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