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Scientist Steve Barbaeux participates in the cod count.

Scientist Steve Barbeaux participates in the cod count.

The west coast of the United States is known for some pretty incredible natural resources and products. In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, this often includes fish and seafood. Many companies all along the coast depend on these natural products for their income, but something is threatening this. Scientists doing a yearly survey were shocked by the plummeting numbers of cod in the area. The numbers are so bad that they have said: “It’s The Worst We’ve Seen.”

Every year, scientists gather to perform what they call the “trawl net survey.” This helps them to measure the number of cod in the area. Many of the cod are also marked in a way that they can track what year they were hatched, this year they should have seen many of the 2012 hatchings. They also make a note about the overall health of the fish they see.

This year the number of fish they have caught is the lowest they have ever recorded. This survey dates back to 1984, and these numbers are less than half of the previous “worst” year. The fish being caught are not from the 2012 class, and they see very little evidence of fish born after that year. It appears that a whole year’s worth of fish is just vanishing.

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The cod that have been caught are not what they expect either. Usually very robust and meaty, these are just not that type of fish. These cod are long, skinny fish. They appear to be older but not well-nourished.

Numbers from the 2017 survey show a 70% decrease from the number of fish caught just two years ago. This dip in numbers can spell disaster for fisheries and businesses that depend on the fish for income.

While watching just one class of fish almost disappear may not seem like that big of a deal within the overall seafood market, the yearly cod harvest makes $50 million for businesses in Alaska and the Northwest. Fishermen in the area often fish for only the cod on the bottom of the ocean with nets, pot traps, and baited hooks. It is not as simple as fishing for another type of fish for them,

Many scientists are left scratching their heads trying to figure out what is happening to these fish. There are some that are quick to blame climate change, but this does not seem to fully explain what is happening. Another point to an odd situation that occurred several years ago, that was merely called the “blob.”

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When the average person hears the term “blob,” many think back to those old monster movies with the big sticky creature taking over the world. This is not the case here; this was just a nickname they gave to an unusual mass of very warm water that hit the west coast several years ago. The blob was a made up of unseasonably warm Pacific Ocean water that at one point stretched from the Gulf of Alaska to the off-shore waters of California.

The blob dug into these waters starting in 2014. Within a year the number of cod began to dwindle. Between the count in 2013 and the one in 2015, the number was cut in half. The latest count was not even half of the numbers from 2015.

One reason the blob seems to have had that big of an impact was the fact that it was able to change the overall water temperature. In some places, the water was 7 degrees warmer than it usually was. The more heated water was taxing for many of the cod who suddenly were burning calories faster than they should. This is one explanation as to why the cod that are being caught seem to be so skinny.

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Even a slight change of the temperature on the sea bottom where the cod are is significant. The changes forced by the blob were overwhelming. Not only are many of the fish skinny, but far more may not have lived because they became weak and were eaten by other animals.

While the cod numbers are drawing current attention, they were not the only animals impacted by the blob. There was also a sudden dip in the number of salmon off the coast of both Washington and Oregon. Scientists also kept a watchful eye as the number of bird die-offs and whale strandings skyrockets. There are also some that link this blob to unexplained toxic algae blooms.