Climate change could lead to new seafood menu

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Research published in the most recent issue of the journal Current Biology expects a change in your seafood menu.

The study by Stephen Simpson and coauthors found that the abundance of commercially important fish species in the northeastern Atlantic has been changing over the last three decades as a result of climate change (more specifically global warming).

Using data from 11 demersal trawl surveys conducted over 28 years (1980–2008) by European fisheries agencies, the authors conducted their analysis in conjunction with bathymetry and temperature data over a spatial scale comprising of 218 cells one degree of longitude wide and one degree of latitude long.

The authors found that a majority (72%) of the common northeastern Atlantic fishes are responding significantly to global warming, with the response being evident in their abundance in the landings of the commercial fisheries.

Catches of cold-loving species, including haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), Pollock (Pollachius spp.) and cod (Gadus morhua) were approximately half the levels of those in the 1980s, whereas landings of warm-loving species, including hake (Merluccius spp.) and dab (Limanda limanda), have more than doubled.

Although this change may seem worrying to some, the authors report that three times more species are increasing with warming than declining, indicating that consumers would expect a greater variety to choose from at the fishmongers and that an unavoidable change in your dinner is in the works.

This study further highlights the importance of studying the effect of climate change on species abundance, rather than species distribution: although the composition of the fish fauna in the study area has changed very little in decades, there has been significant changes in species abundance.

This is important because local abundance changes in established fish communities have the greatest implications for both ecosystem function and societies dependent on marine natural resources.

According to senior author Stephen Simpson: "We may see a further decline in cold-adapted species, many of which were the staple for our grandparents. The flip side is a likely increase in species that for the UK may seem relatively exotic now, such as red mullet and John Dory. Over time, with effective management and an appropriate response in consumer demand, European seas have the potential to yield productive and sustainable fisheries into the future."

For more information, see the paper: Simpson, SD, S Jennings, MP Johnson, JL Blanchard, P-J Schön, DW Sims and MJ Genner (2011) Continental shelf-wide response of a fish assemblage to rapid warming of the sea. Current Biology 21, pp. 1565–1570.

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