Climate Science

July 7, 2013

Ocean temps, fisheries tell their own climate change story

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

One of its missions is to keep track of fish stocks so they can be managed in a sustainable way and to gather physical data on the ocean that may impact these stocks. The map labeled “Northeast Shelf Subregions” was released in April 2013. 

The map is color-coded and details four separate ecoregions within the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem that stretches from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to the Gulf of Maine. In 2012, the sea surface temperature for this region was nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average over the past 30 years. The sea surface temperature (SST) was also the warmest in 150 years of measurements. 

The areas in the map are defined as: MAB, Mid-Atlantic Bight; SNE, Southern New England; GB, Georges Bank; and GOM, Gulf of Maine. 

Was it a coincidence that with all of this additional heat energy in the ocean and atmosphere, that in the fall of 2012 the Northeast was hit by what Climate Progress called the “largest hurricane in Atlantic history as measured by the diameter of gale force winds (1,040 miles)”? Interesting correlation, but more data are needed to validate this idea. 

What is known about the increased temperature of the Atlantic Ocean is the impact on the fish stocks and species being caught. See the chart labeled “Warming Oceans are Reshaping Fisheries.” 

Let’s focus on the top left side of this chart, “Subtropic and temperate ocean” with the three fish nets indicated. The net marked as “1970” illustrates a mix of warm-water and cool-water species that gradually change to a different mix in “2000,” with then additional changes in the species mix under the warmer “Future” scenario. The science suggests that the total fish stocks will remain similar but with higher percentages of warm-water fish. The cool-water fish will have migrated further north. 

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