California Current - Ecosystem


Photo of California coastline

The California Current Ecosystem (CCE) is a dynamic, diverse environment in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Spanning nearly 3,000 km from southern British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico, the California Current encompasses the United States Exclusive Economic Zone, the coastal land-sea interface, and adjacent terrestrial watersheds along the West Coast. This highly productive coastal ecosystem is fueled by the seasonal upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water. These seasonal episodes of productivity support populations of krill, squid, sardines, and other species that are fed upon by larger fishes, seabirds and marine mammals. Broad-scale climate forcing related to El Niño / La Niña events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation help determine how much upwelling will occur at points along the coast in a given year.

In turn, the California Current ecosystem provides significant economic, cultural, social and aesthetic benefits that enhance the quality of life for coastal communities, and greatly benefit economies of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho (as well as Mexico and Canada). It directly produces and supports a variety of ecosystem goods and services, including fisheries, recreation, tourism, energy production, climate regulation, pollution control, and transportation. This ocean economy generates $56 billion, and employs more than 675,000 individuals in various ocean-use sectors including commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism (2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics data from The commercial seafood industry in California alone generates over $21 billion in sales and supports 114,000 jobs (NMFS 2017). The coastal economies of California, Oregon, and Washington’s counties generated $2.7 trillion, or 14.6% of our national GDP, in 2016. The benefits that coastal communities accrue from the California Current ecosystem can also have associated costs, including increased population growth in coastal communities, emission of carbon and other pollutants, fishing pressure, and demand for oil, gas, and renewable energy.

Beyond supporting the regional economies of the US West Coast, the CCE also supplies significant cultural ecosystem services, or nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as cultural diversity, spiritual and religious values, knowledge systems, educational values, inspiration, aesthetic values, social relations, sense of place, and cultural heritage values. For example, a number of species including Pacific salmon, eulachon, abalone, Pacific lamprey, killer whales, and gray whales (among others) play important roles in the cultures of coastal Native American tribes and First Nations.

NMFS 2017. Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2015. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/SPO-170, 247p.

California Current