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With a hurricane passing over Maine this weekend, the state’s long coastline and ocean has been a focus of attention and worry.
New research suggests that they are reasons for ongoing concerns about our oceans and the fish that live in them.
Rising ocean temperatures will shift where fish, especially large predatory fish, eat and congregate, studies say. As a result, fishermen and regulators must be ready to change their practices and regulations to preserve these species. And, to preserve the fishing industries and communities that rely on healthy stocks of fish such as tuna and swordfish.
Loss of habitat could drive some of the most commercially important seafood species from the ocean, Maine-based reporter Patrick Whittle of the Associated Press wrote.
A recent study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts predicts that some large species could lose 70 percent of their habitat by 2100.
“It’s a sign that this year’s high temperatures aren’t an anomaly but a warning about what the ocean’s future could hold with climate change,” Whittle wrote.
Commercial fishing is an important part of the state’s economy. Last year, Maine’s seafood harvest was valued at more than $574 million. The bulk of that came from the state’s nearly 100 million-pound lobster harvest, by far the most lucrative fishery in Maine.
Although the studies included in the AP reporting did not involve lobster, other research predicts impacts to the crustaceans as water warms in the Gulf of Maine. For example, there are indications that prime lobster habitat is shifting northward as ocean temperatures rise. The state’s lobster catch has declined significantly in the last decade.
“More and more lobsters are showing as an indicator species of the effects of global warming and ocean warming,” author Chris White said in 2019. “You can argue back and forth how many different factors are influencing the reduced harvest every year — and there are a number of factors — but the biggest is the warming of oceans.”
Both land and ocean temperatures are rising. This summer was the hottest on record globally, according to NASA. Temperatures, measured at tens of thousands of spots around the world, exceeded past records by the largest amount since record keeping began in 1880, the agency said on Thursday.
Exceptionally high sea surface temperatures drove these record temperatures. In July, ocean temperatures were nearly 2 degrees above the average for that month.
Although researchers attribute some of the anomalies to the current El Nino weather pattern, green-house gas emissions from human activities also play a significant role.
“Over the long term, we’re seeing more heat and warmer sea surface temperatures pretty much everywhere,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said last month. “That long-term trend is almost entirely attributable to human forcing — the fact that we’ve put such a huge amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere since the start of the industrial era.”
As the oceans continue to warm, there will clearly be significant implications throughout the marine food chain. As fish populations shift, that will impact commercial catches – both for bait fish and fish that end up on dinner plates – and the people and communities that rely on them. Understanding and planning for those changes now can help minimize negative consequences.