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Climate change disrupting commercial fish migration and industry

Fish species are relocating at a pace that international fishing laws cannot keep up with, as climate change continues to warm the temperature of ocean waters. According to a new study from Rutgers University, this will cause increasing international conflict.

Study author Malin Pinsky is an assistant professor of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources in Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

“Most people may not understand that the right to harvest particular species of fish is often decided by national and regional fisheries management bodies,” said Professor Pinsky. “Those bodies have made the rules based on the notion that particular fish species live in particular waters and don’t move much. Well, they’re moving now because climate change is warming ocean temperatures.”

The study has demonstrated for the first time that new fisheries are likely to appear in more than 70 countries all over the world as a result of global warming. Historically, a large migration of fish species has sparked disagreement among fishing communities.

Such conflict leads to overfishing and subsequently reduces the food, profit, and employment provided by fisheries. Disputes over newly-shared fisheries can also impact international relations beyond the coastline.

In a previous study, Professor Pinsky and Rutgers postdoctoral associate James Morley reported that many major commercial fish species could move their ranges hundreds of miles northward in search of colder water. This migration is already underway, and the results have been highly disruptive for fisheries.

“Consider flounder, which have already shifted their range 250 miles farther north,” said Professor Pinsky. “Federal fisheries rules have allocated many of those fish to fishers in North Carolina, and now they have to steam hundreds of extra miles to catch their flounder.”

The team pointed out examples of international disputes caused by the disruption of fisheries, including the “mackerel war” between Iceland and the European Union (EU).

Lobster fishers from the United States and Canada are clashing over the lobster fishery, which is moving north from New England to the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

The study authors explained that, while the migration of fish is inevitable with changing climate conditions, the conflicts can be avoided.

“We need international agreements for the collaborative monitoring and sharing of fisheries as they move, much as the Antarctic conservation agreement has begun to do,” said Professor Pinsky.

“We have a chance to avoid conflict over fisheries that could escalate international tensions, threaten our food supply, and reduce profit and employment worldwide. Avoiding fisheries conflicts and overfishing ultimately provides more fish, more food and more jobs for everyone.”

The study is published in the journal Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Malin Pinsky/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

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