Ocean heat puts pressure on poorest fisheries

Warm water Red Mullet catches in the UK have increased as sea temperatures have warmed, which William Cheung has linked to global warming. Credit: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal via Flickr Creative Commons License

Warm water Red Mullet catches in the UK have increased as sea temperatures have warmed, which William Cheung has linked to global warming. Credit: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal via Flickr Creative Commons License

Since 1970, our warming seas have driven fish across the world into cooler, deeper waters, potentially threatening fishing in Earth’s hottest seas. By analysing worldwide fish catches, Canadian and Australian scientists have found that the proportion of warmer-water fish caught has steadily grown. And in future, the warmest waters are set to become too hot for some of the fish that might previously have been caught there.

“Tropical fisheries are likely to be most impacted by ocean warming,” William Cheung from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, told me. “We expect that the current trend would continue, and will reduce the catch for tropical fisheries. Many tropical fishing communities are in developing countries with limited socio-economic scope to deal with changes in resource abundance. Thus, these communities are most vulnerable to ocean warming.”

Like all living creatures, fish have a range of temperatures that they can comfortably live in. Sea temperatures are rising, with the US coast from North Carolina to Maine reaching the warmest level in 150 years last year, for example. Changing climate has already been linked to fish catches in some places, with William previously suggesting it’s behind rapid increases in warm-water red mullet catches around the UK. “However, there was no study that assessed the linkages between ocean warming and fisheries changes in the global scale,” he said.

So William and his teammates set about bringing together fish catch information from 52 ecosystems, including most of the world’s fisheries. That included data on 990 species, which the scientists analysed using a new measure, the ‘mean temperature of the catch’ or MTC, which William also calls a ‘fish thermometer’. To find the MTC, the scientists start by working out the preferred temperature of each species, based on the sea water temperatures in the areas that they used to live in. “For example, fishes that live in colder area, such as cod, will have a lower preferred temperature than a tropical fish, such as a tropical grouper,” William explained. Read the rest of this entry »