Recently, it has been discovered that the dynamics of phytoplankton concentrations in an ocean exhibit a rich variety of patterns, ranging from trivial states to oscillating and even chaotic behavior [J. Huisman, N. N. Pham Thi, D. M. Karl, and B. P. Sommeijer, Nature, 439 (2006), pp. 322–325]. This paper is a first step towards understanding the bifurcational structure associated with nonlocal coupled phytoplankton-nutrient models as studied in that paper. Its main subject is the linear stability analysis that governs the occurrence of the first nontrivial stationary patterns, the deep chlorophyll maxima (DCMs) and the benthic layers (BLs). Since the model can be scaled into a system with a natural singularly perturbed nature, and since the associated eigenvalue problem decouples into a problem of Sturm–Liouville type, it is possible to obtain explicit (and rigorous) bounds on, and accurate approximations of, the eigenvalues. The analysis yields bifurcation-manifolds in parameter space, of which the existence, position, and nature are confirmed by numerical simulations. Moreover, it follows from the simulations and the results on the eigenvalue problem that the asymptotic linear analysis may also serve as a foundation for the secondary bifurcations, such as the oscillating DCMs, exhibited by the model.