Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Fish Ecology FE - Estuarine and Ocean Ecology


Juvenile Salmonid Parasites in the Columbia River Plume
Juvenile Salmonid Parasite Data
Data on Parasite communities in juvenile Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, and steelhead

Research Themes

Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
The California Current Large Marine Ecosystem, Puget Sound and the Columbia River Basin are home to a wide range of freshwater and marine resources that provide a wealth of ecosystem goods and services. Ensuring the resiliency and productivity of the California Current and Pacific Northwest ecosystems requires an integrated understanding of their structure, function, and vulnerability to increased human population growth in coastal communities and competing uses of coastal waterways and oceans. The NWFSC‘s approach to understanding these large ecosystems integrates studies across ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, and marine) and scientific disciplines to inform resource managers responsible for conserving marine resources.
Habitats to support sustainable fisheries and recovered populations
Healthy oceans, coastal waters, and riverine habitats provide the foundation for aquatic resources used by a diversity of species and society. Protecting marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems that support these species relies on science to link habitat condition/processes and the biological effects of restoration actions. The NWFSC provides the habitat science behind many management actions taken by NOAA Fisheries and other natural resource agencies to protect and recover aquatic ecosystems and living marine resources. The NWFSC also maintains a longstanding focus on toxic chemical contaminants, as a foundation for regional and national research on pollution threats to fisheries and protected resources.
Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.

Research Foci

Characterize ecological interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism, disease, etc.) within and among species
Predator-prey interactions, inter- and intra-specific competition, and parasites and pathogens influence the survival, growth, and reproductive success of anadromous and marine fishes, marine mammals and other marine organisms. Moreover, anthropogenic stressors, such as pollution and fishing, can influence these interactions. Because of the complex nature of these interactions, addressing questions about ecological interactions will require novel field and laboratory studies and analyses. This includes ecosystem models, use of innovative technologies (e.g., otolith microchemistry and stable isotopes), integration of sample collection efforts with those of the Ocean Observing System entities on the west coast, and quantifying interactions among environmental stressors, species behavior and ecosystem processes.
Characterize relationships between habitat and ecosystem processes, climate variation, and the viability of organisms
Developing effective conservation and restoration strategies for species or populations requires a clear understanding of how ecosystem processes and climate change will influence the viability of organisms in the future. Key research needs include (1) evaluating the vulnerability of organisms and ecosystems to climate change and human impacts (e.g., fishing, pollution, land use), and (2) devising adaptation strategies that will help achieve conservation goals despite climate change and increasing human pressures. Understanding how climate change or trends in human impacts might influence organisms is based on an understanding of linkages between ecosystem processes, habitat conditions, and abundance, survival or demographics of organisms. This necessitates modeling influences of ecosystem processes on habitats and species, or developing models to examine influences of human pressures on population or ecosystem dynamics. With this foundation, vulnerability assessments can focus on understanding how interactions between climate change and human impacts influence vulnerability of species or populations. Adaptation strategies require knowledge of current conservation needs, predictions of how those needs might change as a result of climate change or future human impacts, and assessments of the robustness of alternative conservation strategies or techniques to climate trends.
Characterize the interaction between marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystem components
Although many species migrate between connected aquatic, marine, estuarine and freshwater environments they are commonly studied and managed as separate ecosystems. Environmental conditions in both marine and freshwater areas are strongly influenced by flows of water, sediment, organic matter and nutrients among ecosystems. Moreover, many threats (e.g., pollution, habitat loss, climate change, etc.) to marine organisms cross land-sea boundaries. Successful management of aquatic systems thus requires an understanding of linkages among ecosystems, including study of how specific habitats (e.g., headwaters, floodplains, submerged aquatic vegetation, nearshore zones, plumes and frontal regions) contribute to the productivity and capacity of ecosystems, and how to prioritize ecosystem protection or restoration within the context of the entire freshwater-estuarinemarine ecosystem.
Characterize the population biology of species, and develop and improve methods for predicting the status of populations
To evaluate species status and recovery, it is necessary to understand key aspects of the population biology of the species in question. This includes basic information on abundance, age structure, recruitment, spatial distribution, life history and how the species interacts with its ecosystem. For some recovering species, including most overfished groundfish stocks, many ESA-listed Pacific salmon stocks, and high profile species such as Southern Resident killer whales, this basic information is often reasonably well understood. For other recovering species, such as Pacific eulachon and some ESA-listed rockfish species, even basic information (e.g. stock abundance) is unknown. Even for well-studied species, key information on survival rates for critical life stages and how the environment affects these vital rates is lacking. Without basic information on species dynamics, achieving other goals such as quantifying relationships between human activities and species recovery or even knowing if species recovery goals are being met will not be successful. The NWFSC, in partnership with regional stakeholders, including states, tribes and industry, is conducting research to collect and monitor critical demographic information for recovering species.
Describe the interaction between human activities, particularly harvest of marine resources, and ecosystem function
Humans are an integral component of ecosystems. These ecosystems provide goods and services such as fish and seafood harvests, but these activities and others such as habitat alteration, pollution, and ocean acidification, can have strong impacts. Understanding the nature of these interactions will require observational and experimental studies aimed at identifying ecosystem-level responses to human activities, both individually and cumulatively, as well as human responses to ecosystem changes. Modeling spatial choices for harvesting and other human activities that are affected by ecosystem integrity, for example, can support a better understanding of the effects of ecosystembased management actions.
Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability
Human activities play a major role in determining the status of species and stocks. Rebuilding and recovery therefore need to address how these activities affect their status. At the NWFSC, biophysical modeling is used to link specific human activities such as land use and pollution to habitat conditions, and then to link these conditions and other activities to particular life stages. These models can be used to quantitatively assess how human activities influence species abundance, productivity, distribution and diversity. Not surprisingly, altering human activities in some way is often necessary for species or stock recovery and rebuilding. It is therefore important to understand the socio-economic effects of alternative management structures. Gathering data on their economic costs and social impacts helps identify actions that are cost-effective. These actions will need to be resilient to potential changes in climate throughout the region. Research on how humans react to management strategies helps policy makers avoid those that lead to unintended consequences that can hinder rather than help recovery.
Develop methods to use physiological, biological and behavioral information to predict population-level processes
Understanding the biological processes occurring within organisms is a powerful way of understanding how environmental changes affect those organisms. Genetics, developmental, physiological and behavioral studies all provide important information for effective species recovery and rebuilding. Integrating this information into models is vital to predict how populations will respond to natural or human perturbations, and to assess the constraints to stock rebuilding efforts. For example, data on thermal tolerance and physiological responses to temperature can be used to explore changes caused by shifts in climate on reproductive behavior and productivity, viability, movement, habitat selection, and population dynamics. Similarly, data on contaminants that impact physiological processes (immune system, growth, development, reproduction, and general health) are critical in determining how these compounds affect population dynamics. Data on biological responses of organisms to ocean acidification are useful for understanding how acidification may affect individual development and survival. The NWFSC collects such information for several species that are of concern, targets of fisheries or otherwise important for overall ecosystem function. NWFSC scientists will continue to expand current efforts and develop methods to incorporate physiological, biological and behavioral data into population models in order to predict population-level processes from these individual level data.
Provide scientific support for the implementation of ecosystem-based management
Fisheries scientists and managers recognize the potential for ecosystem-based management to improve sustain the delivery of ecosystem goods and services, including sustainable fisheries resources. An Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) is one approach that examines all available information on relevant physical, chemical, ecological and human processes in relation to specified ecosystem management objectives. IEAs provide an efficient, transparent means of summarizing the status of ecosystem components, screening and prioritizing potential risks, and evaluating alternative management strategies against a backdrop of environmental variability. To perform IEAs of major ecosystems will require development of project components, including new and existing data, to develop a suite of indicators that characterize the ecosystem. Careful assessment of ecosystem indicators will provide a powerful means for assessing management efficacy and a basis for adapting and improving management practices. A major focus will be to produce the initial IEA of the California Current LME and then provide annual updates.
Understand how climate influences ecosystem variability
Effective ecosystem management will require an understanding of how climate variability and climate change will alter riverine, estuarine, and marine habitats and consequently how this will affect ecosystem status, function and recovery. Key research elements include better understanding of historical ecological variability through traditional (i.e., indigenous) sources, exploring the vulnerability of key species and biotic communities to expected habitat changes, including decreasing stream flow, increased flood frequency, increasing stream temperature, sea level rise, ocean acidification, shifts in ocean currents, and changed frequency and extent of deoxygenated zones. A secondary goal is to improve understanding of how ecosystems respond to year-to-year and decadal climate variability. Achieving these research goals will provide NOAA and state and local governments with the knowledge and tools needed to incorporate climate change and variability into management of living marine resources.


Columbia River
Columbia River
climate change
changes in climate
marine ecosystems
ecological relationships in marine ecosystems
study of the oceans
all salmonids
survival modeling
Survival CJS (Cormack-Jolly-Seber) modeling


The Marine Ecology of Juvenile Columbia River Basin Salmonids: A Synthesis of Research 1998 2011
Early ocean dispersal patterns of Columbia River Chinook and coho salmon. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc., 143:1, 252-272.
Environmental and geospatial factors drive juvenile Chinook salmon distribution during early ocean migration. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci., 70, 1167-1177.
Evidence for multiple navigational sensory capabilities by Chinook salmon. Aquatic Biology, 20(1):77-90
Burke, B. J., J. J. Anderson, A. M. Baptista. 2014. The next link will exit from NWFSC web site Evidence for multiple navigational sensory capabilities by Chinook salmon. Aquatic Biology, 20(1):77-90
Juvenile steelhead distribution, migration, feeding, and growth in the Columbia River estuary, plume, and coastal waters. Mar. Coast. Fish., 6:1, 62-80.
Multivariate Models of Adult Pacific Salmon Returns. Plos One, 8(1): e54134.
Ocean ecosystem indicators of salmon marine survival in the Northern California current, 013.pdf


Class Actinopterygii
ray-finned fishes
Class Aves
Class Elasmobranchii
Class Malacostraca
Family Euphausiidae
Genus Oncorhynchus
Order Salpida
Species Oncorhynchus clarkii
cutthroat trout
Species Oncorhynchus gorbuscha
humpback salmon, pink salmon
Species Oncorhynchus keta
chum salmon, dog salmon, Keta salmon
Species Oncorhynchus kisutch
Coho salmon, silver salmon
Species Oncorhynchus mykiss
rainbow trout, steelhead trout, syeelhead trout
Species Oncorhynchus nerka
kokanee, red salmon, sockeye salmon
Species Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Chinook salmon, king salmon, spring salmon


Bill Peterson
Principal Investigator
Brian Beckman
Principal Investigator
Brian Burke
Principal Investigator
Cheryl Morgan
Curtis Roegner
Principal Investigator
Cynthia Bucher
David Kuligowski
David Teel
Principal Investigator
Donald Van Doornik
Elizabeth Daly
Jeannette Zamon
Principal Investigator
Kurt Fresh
Project Group Lead
Kym Jacobson
Principal Investigator
Laurie Weitkamp
Principal Investigator
Mary Rew
Paul Bentley
Richard Brodeur
Principal Investigator
Richard Zabel
Principal Investigator
Susan Hinton
Thomas Wainwright
Principal Investigator