Global warming will drive many of North America’s fish species hundreds of miles northward, potentially costing coastal fishing communities billions of dollars over the next few decades, new research shows.
In New England, the centuries-old cod fishery is at risk, with East Coast habitat for Atlantic cod expected to decline 90 percent by 2100. Off the Pacific Northwest, rockfish that have been prized by Native American communities for centuries are moving toward Alaska as the oceans warm.
If heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, several important species will disappear from their current habitat by the end of the century, according to a new study of 686 species that live in the relatively shallow waters along the North American continental shelf. The biggest changes are expected along the West Coast, where some economically important species like rockfish will move some 900 miles from their traditional grounds off Washington and Canada to Alaska.
Even if global warming is limited to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, as intended under the Paris climate agreement, there will still be increasing disruptions to fisheries. The shifts have already caused conflicts over the regional fishing quotas, said Rutgers University researcher Malin Pinsky, co-author of the new study published this week in the journal PLOS One.
Like other species, fish are trying to keep cool in the face of global warming, but since they are highly mobile, they are occupying new habitat 10 times faster than species on land, Pinsky said.
That’s going to have an impact on humans, too.