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Climate crisis could see cod wiped off the menu

Fish eating consumers should reject buying cold water species such as cod to allow stocks to bounce back and consider choosing warm-adapted species such as red mullet and John dory, according to new research.

A consortium of UK researchers used computer models to look at how fish stocks may alter by 2090 under a range of future climates to “help prepare the fishing industry and management systems.”

They found that decreases in cold water fish in the north‐west European shelf, which includes the North Sea, have escalated and will continue to do so amid rising sea temperatures caused by the climate crisis. Working with fishers “on the ground”, the researchers also found that warmer water species are appearing more in catches.

Lead author Dr Katherine Maltby, said “our results show that climate change will continue to affect fish stocks within this sea region into the future, presenting both potential risks but some opportunities that fishers will likely have to adapt to.”

The research also calls for “increasingly flexible and adaptive” fisheries management in order to successfully navigate the climate emergency. There is growing evidence that when fisheries are properly managed, stocks are consistently above target levels or recovering.

Crucially, the report found that “the development of consumer demand”, will play a key role in the recovery of these species and the adaptability of fishers. “Consumers can help fishers take advantage of these fishing opportunities by seeking out other fish species to eat and enjoy,” said Maltby.

The North Sea is heating more than twice as fast as the world’s oceans, which hit record high temperatures last year. The average temperature of North Sea waters rose by 1.67oC over the past 45 years.

Climate projections suggest the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish and Celtic Seas could experience further sea warming of up to 4°C by the end of the century.

These changes, coupled with overfishing in many parts of the world’s oceans, are putting immense pressure on marine life. The number of overfished stocks globally has tripled in half a century and today one-third of the world’s assessed fisheries are currently pushed beyond their biological limits, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Take Action

Consumers can play a key role in securing the future of our seas and marine wildlife by making more environmentally responsible choices when buying seafood.

Of the 25 species of cod listed on the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide, 20 are listed as critically endangered. Click here to find out which stocks are at sustainable levels.

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