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Warming seas set to hit UK's favourite fish

Fish and chips. (Photo Credit: Charles Haynes/CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 01:00 (GMT + 9)
Popular North Sea fish such as haddock, plaice and lemon sole could become less common on British menus because they will be constrained to preferred habitat as seas warm, according to a study by researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Bristol.

Fish distributions are limited by water temperature and some species can only thrive in certain habitats and depths.

In the last 40 years the North Sea has warmed four times faster than the global average and further warming is predicted over the coming century, leading fisheries scientists to study how this will impact on commercial species.

In their study, published in Nature Climate Change, the researchers developed a model that combined long-term fisheries datasets and climate model projections from the Met Office to predict the abundance and distribution of the UK’s favourite fish over the next 50 years.

The team found that, as the North Sea warms, species will have little capacity to move northwards to avoid warming temperatures, since habitat of a suitable depth is not available. Due to higher temperatures, many of the species studied are predicted to reduce in relative abundance.

“Our study suggests that we will see proportionally less of some of the species we eat most of as they struggle to cope with warming conditions in the North Sea," said Louise Rutterford, postgraduate researcher at the University of Exeter. "We provide new insight into how important local depths and associated habitats are to these commercial species. It’s something that is not always captured in existing models that predict future fish distributions."

According to Dr Martin Genner, Senior Lecturer in Fish Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bristol, "Long-term standardised fisheries surveys from many European countries, alongside leading climate models for the region, mean it is a unique region to develop and test new modelling approaches."

"The modelling technique used in this analysis performed remarkably well when tested on available long-term datasets. This provides real confidence in the model’s ability to predict future patterns of fish distributions around the UK," Genner added.

Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology and Global Change at the University of Exeter, said the findings are important for both consumers and the fishing industry.

"We will see a real changing of the guard in the next few decades," he affirmed. "Our models predict cold water species will be squeezed out, with warmer water fish likely to take their place. For sustainable UK fisheries, we need to move on from haddock and chips and look to Southern Europe for our gastronomic inspiration." 

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