The ocean is getting warmer and it is having an impact on where fish are calling home.
National Marine Fisheries Service scientists recently published a report citing that gray snapper, a fish more common in the waters off Florida, are moving north up the coast due to warming coastal waters and estuaries along the Eastern Seaboard.
In the report, published online in December in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and the University of North Florida found that juvenile gray snapper have expanded their range and have been reported as far north as Massachusetts.
“As climate warms, more and more are going to be able to survive. In the distant future they will be able to establish populations,” John Hare, the scientist who wrote the report, told the Gazette in a telephone interview.
Mr. Hare is the director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Narragansett Laboratory in Rhode Island. He has done similar research on the Atlantic croaker with similar results, published in a paper in 2010.
In a release announcing the report, Mr. Hare said the work “supports the conclusion that along the U.S. East Coast, some species will be positively affected by climate change while other species will be negatively affected.”
On the Vineyard there were a number of sightings of tropical fish last year in the waters around the Island. Sometimes these fish end up out of their zone due to storms. But scientists are finding increasing evidence that warming waters are affecting the habits and health of native fish and shellfish populations. The American lobster, once plentiful and healthy in these waters, is one example of a species that appears to be stressed by warming waters, Mr. Hare said, while lobsters north of Cape Cod are in better health. “There is a decent amount of evidence that lobsters are being impacted by the warmer waters,” Mr. Hare said.
Black sea bass is another species showing signs of change. Fisheries managers who are concerned about declines of black sea bass off the mid-Atlantic states are seeing more and more of these fish south of Cape Cod, especially in Vineyard waters, indicating that the population has shifted north. “I am hearing this from local fishermen. And we’ve started a group to start work on this as the next species [of study],” Mr. Hare said.
“The ecosystem is changing. The fisheries are changing,” he said.