Fish Flee Warming Waters: Study Claims Climate Change To Blame

Rutgers University is conducting a study which indicates climate change seems to be pushing several species of fish and crustaceans northward along the east and west coasts of North America. This movement could have serious effects on birds, marine mammals, and those who depend on fishing for food and income, according to the Asbury Park Press.

“As temperatures have warmed in the waters off our coasts, animals with a low tolerance for that warming have just picked up and shifted,” says Malin Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers who is leading a team researching these shifts. “I hesitate to say ‘moved,’ mainly because we don’t yet know whether fish are actually swimming, or whether they’re simply reproducing more slowly in their old ranges and faster in their new ranges.”

Over the past 18 months, Pinsky, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, has published two papers — Climatic Change in October 2012 and Science in September 2013 — which document this trend and explores its implications. He and his team have found that the shift northward is happening at different rates among the species due to the rate and direction of climate change in their waters, reports Central Jersey.

The data behind this research is now available at a new website, OceanAdapt, built by Pinsky and his colleagues, and funded by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Much of the information available on the website explains how the ecology, business, and economics of sport and commercial fishing are connected to the effects of climate change, and how difficult it is to adapt to the change. The challenge now, said Pinsky, who will publish a study in Oceanography this month, is for fisheries, which provide a source of protein to 60 percent of the world’s population, to adapt to these changes, according to Central Jersey.

Using the case of the black sea bass as an example, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates certain fisheries in the eastern United States, still allocates quotas among states based on their distribution in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, black sea bass were more often caught in Virginia than in New York, while the bass are now found further north. The current regulations require that fish caught in North Carolina, for instance, be distributed and sold from North Carolina. While the number of black bass harvested in North Carolina is the same as it was two decades ago, the black bass population has dwindled in those waters, and forced fishermen from North Carolina to travel to New Jersey to do their harvesting.

“We don’t necessarily foresee a catastrophic collapse,” said Pinsky. “Species that are heavily over-fished are especially sensitive to climate change, and so allowing over-fished species to recover may be one of the best things we can do for preserving fisheries in the future.”

As reported by the Inquisitr, climate change talks are in progress which could outline several ways to combat issues such as those addressed by Pinsky.