Climate forces fish to poles

October 14, 2014

According to a University of British Columbia (UBC) study, fish could be moving poleward at a rate of 26 kilometres per decade. These new investigations of the impact of climate change on fish stocks suggest large numbers of fish will be lost from the tropics within the next 35 years.

The study, published in ICES Journal of Marine Science, found ocean ‘hotspots’ for local fish extinction, but also revealed that changing temperatures will drive fish into Arctic and Antarctic waters; leaving the tropics with scarce numbers of fish by 2050.

The researchers, led by Professor William Cheung, used Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) simulations to forecast the large-scale shift of fish and marine invertebrates. At its worst, the Earth’s oceans could warm by three degrees Celsius by 2100. This would cause fish to move from their present habitats at a startling pace of 26 kilometres every 10 years. Though it is more likely that the Earth will rise by only one degree Celsius, this would still cause fish to move 15 kilometres every decade.

Associate professor at the UBC Fisheries Centre, Cheung warned these changes will particularly affect the tropics. “This area has a high dependence on fish for food, diet and nutrition. We’ll see a loss of fish populations that are important to the fisheries and communities in these regions”.  As fish move to cooler climes, the tropics will suffer. The fish could also disrupt existing species in the Arctic, increasing competition for resources. This study is one of many to show the impact of warming temperatures on marine life, and will be important for fisheries stakeholders worldwide.