Fish migrate to escape climate change

A study out today in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series shows that global warming could have a major effect on the fishing industry by forcing large fish populations from their original habitats. About half of the fish stocks studied in the Atlantic ocean, many of them commercially valuable species, have shifted northward over the last 40 years. The study finds that the fish are moving to escape continually warming waters that are no longer ideal as habitat.

Published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, the paper reviews published literature on population data of 36 large fishery stocks over the last four decades. The data show that fish are always found at an optimal temperature for their species; this suggests that the fish are moving to stay within their preferred temperature ranges. Some species also move to deeper depths to find cooler waters.

The results are not startling, but they draw attention to the fact that fishermen may soon need to travel much further distances to find fishes that people are used to seeing at their markets. Says lead author Janet Nye, a postdoc at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole:

Consumers in the Northeast, for example, may eventually start seeing less familiar species like Atlantic croaker at local markets and on restaurant menus as southern and Mid-Atlantic species move northward into New England waters. The fish appear to be adapting to a changing environment, and people will as well over the next few decades.

Nye, J., Link, J., Hare, J., & Overholtz, W. (2009). Changing spatial distribution of fish stocks in relation to climate and population size on the Northeast United States continental shelf Marine Ecology Progress Series, 393, 111-129 DOI: 10.3354/meps08220

Author: Christine Buckley

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