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Major changes in fish stocks are expected as temperatures rise

Researchers at the University of Exeter are describing how fish stocks will change as a result of rising ocean temperatures. The study projects major shifts in the availability of important fish species in the southwestern region of the UK.

Over the last 40 years, the Celtic Sea, English Channel and the southern North Sea have warmed significantly and water temperatures are still rising.

“Our results show that climate change will continue to affect fish stocks within this sea region into the future, presenting both potential risks but some opportunities that fishers will likely have to adapt to,” explained study lead author Dr. Katherine Maltby. 

“Consumers can help fishers take advantage of these fishing opportunities by seeking out other fish species to eat and enjoy.”

It is important to project future sea temperatures to help prepare fisheries management systems for the upcoming impacts.

In the current study, the researchers used computer models to investigate potential changes in the distribution of fish through 2090. By simulating the abundance of fish stocks under a range of future climate scenarios, the experts could gain a better understanding of how future trends may vary depending on how much temperatures rise.

The analysis showed that the numbers of cold-adapted species like Atlantic cod, monkfish, and megrim will decrease, while warm-adapted species like red mullet, Dover sole, and lemon sole will increase in abundance. These ecological shifts will challenge current fisheries management systems to prepare by adjusting their practices. For example, the allowable catch of declining species may need to be limited to reduce their vulnerability to global warming.

The researchers said that increasingly flexible and adaptive management approaches will be needed to reduce climate impacts on fish species while also facilitating industry adaptation.

The findings suggest that British consumers need to adapt their diets to eat species that will benefit from future warming, such as red mullet.

“We know from working with fishers that warmer water species are appearing in catches more,” said study co-author Louise Rutterford. “Bringing together their ‘on-the-ground’ experiences with studies like ours will help inform future management decisions that enable sustainable exploitation while supporting fishers’ adaptation.”

The study is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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