Warming Waters Push Fish To Cooler Climes, Out Of Some Fishermen's Reach : The Salt From bass to lobster, hundreds of species that live along U.S. coastlines are projected to migrate north over the next 80 years, making them harder to catch and manage. It's already happening.

Warming Waters Push Fish To Cooler Climes, Out Of Some Fishermen's Reach

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The oceans are getting warmer, and fish are noticing. Many that live along U.S. coastlines are moving to cooler water as a result. As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, a new study finds that trend is likely to continue. And there could be potentially serious consequences for the fishing industry.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, BYLINE: Fish are as picky about their water temperature as Goldilocks was about her porridge. And ecologist Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University says a warming climate is heating up their coastal habitats.

MALIN PINSKY: Here in North American waters, that means fish and other marine animals - their habitat is shifting further north quite rapidly.

JOYCE: Pinsky studied 686 marine species, ranging from bass and flounder to crab and lobster. He projected how much warmer oceans would get and how fish species would probably react to that.

PINSKY: And about 450 of those, we have high certainty in terms of how far they're going to shift in the future.

JOYCE: Some, just a few miles; others, like the Alaskan snow crab that gained fame on the television show "Deadliest Catch," a lot more.

PINSKY: They're projected to move up to 900 miles further north, really dramatic changes for a species that's very important.

JOYCE: Pinsky points out in a research paper in the journal PLOS One that there's a lot of uncertainty in how fast this will happen. If the climate doesn't warm up too much, fish may take their time and not move too far. If it warms a lot, the fish will move farther and probably faster. Even a shift of a couple of hundred miles can put fish or lobster out of range for small boats. And it's a serious problem for organizations that manage fish stocks.

Richard Seagraves is a scientist formerly with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. He notes that for fish like Southern flounder, each state gets a quota, a catch limit based on where fish used to be decades ago.

RICHARD SEAGRAVES: Some of the Southern states are having trouble catching the quota. And states to the north have more availability of fish. They're moving north.

JOYCE: Seagraves says natural variation in coastal ocean temperatures already gives fisheries managers headaches. He says climate change will make it a lot harder.

Christopher Joyce, NPR News.


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