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A juvenile blackrock fish

Juvenile black rockfish affected by marine heat wave but not always for the worse, College of Science research shows

By Steve Lundeberg

Larvae produced by black rockfish, a linchpin of the West Coast commercial fishing industry for the past eight decades, fared better during two recent years of unusually high ocean temperatures than had been feared, new research by Oregon State College of Science shows.

“The study is important for gauging the conditions and making management plans that will affect the species’ survival as the ocean experiences increasing variability because of climate change,” said Will Fennie, the study’s lead author.

Fennie, a former Oregon State integrative biology doctoral student now at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, worked with OSU College of Science researchers Su Sponaugle and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert on the study.

Findings were published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

Rockfish, a diverse genus with many species, are a group of ecologically as well as economically important fishes found from Baja California to British Columbia.

They are known for lifespans that can reach triple digits, an ability to produce prodigious numbers of offspring and variable survival during their early life stages, during which they are highly sensitive to environmental conditions.

“Oceanographic conditions dictate water temperature, which influences larval dispersal and food availability – these affect the early growth and survival of fish larvae,” Fennie said. “Larval survival and performance then can influence later life stages – for example, rapid larval growth contributes to increased juvenile survival following settlement to rocky reefs.”

The research involved analyzing juvenile black rockfish samples collected during a long-term collaboration among Oregon State, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The samples were collected nearshore from 2013 to 2019, a time frame that included a marine heat wave between 2014 and 2016.

“The goal was to shed light on how oceanographic conditions affect the early growth and survival of black rockfish,” Fennie said. “We found that despite fears of doom and gloom with recent anomalous warming of the waters off Oregon’s coast, some young black rockfish grew faster as the temperature increased and, surprisingly, there was both high and low survival during different years of the heat wave.”

Read more here.