National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1996

The 1991–93 ENSO event in the northern Gulf of Alaska and its effects on selected marine fisheries

Bailey, K.M., S.A. Macklin, R.K. Reed, R.D. Brodeur, W.J. Ingraham, J.F. Piatt, M. Shima, R.C. Francis, P.J. Anderson, T.C. Royer, A.B. Hollowed, D.A. Somerton, and W.S. Wooster

In ENSO Effects on Fisheries in Gulf of Alaska, CalCOFI Report, 36, 78–96 (1995)

The 1991-93 El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event first appeared in the northern Gulf of Alaska in autumn 1991 with warm sea-surface temperatures. In winter 1992, there were pulses of increased sea level and anomalous circulation. El Niño conditions persisted at least through summer 1993. The effects of this ENSO event on major groundfish species and Pacific herring in the northern Gulf of Alaska were examined and compared with the effects of previous ENSO events. There is little evidence that the 1991-93 or 1982-83 ENSO events affected landings of walleye pollock, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut, or arrowtooth flounder. Some changes in distribution of groundfish species were observed in 1993, but the effect was similar to changes observed in non-ENSO warm years. In general, warm ocean conditions have a positive effect on recruitment of northern stocks, but ENSO events appear to have an inconsistent effect on year-class strength within species and among different species. For example, strong year classes of halibut and arrowtooth flounder sometimes, but not always, coincide with ENSO events; ENSO events are associated with moderate to weak year classes of cod and pollock. However, post-ENSO warm years often are associated with strong recruitment of many groundfish species. Major changes have occurred in the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem since 1977. The influence of the 1976 ENSO event in precipitating these changes and the role of the frequency or strength of subsequent El Niño events is presently unknown. Herring and other stocks of small pelagic fishes may be more affected by ENSO events. In particular, decreased catches, recruitment, and weight-at-age of herring are sometimes associated with ENSO events. Furthermore, a variety of seabirds which feed mostly on pelagic forage fishes or the pelagic juvenile stages of groundfish suffered widespread mortalities and breeding failures in the Gulf of Alaska during the ENSO years of 1983 and 1993. These effects on seabirds were also observed over a wider geographic range, from California to the western Bering Sea.

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