Record-breaking ocean warming, shifting currents and continued development in coastal communities are all contributing to a changing planet and concerning climate patterns that stand to dramatically impact the world’s seafood supply and could deliver a $10 billion hit to fisheries annually by 2050.
Corey Morris measures a lobster while lobstering off the shore near Tenants Harbor Friday, June 24, … [+] 2016. The lobster was released.
A steady rise in ocean temperatures over the last year has outpaced the decades-long average warming of the oceans, according to the Washington Post, and average global ocean temperatures in June were almost a full degree Celsius above the average recorded from 1982 to 2011—delivering a major blow to the habitats of the world’s most commonly consumed seafood species.
The Gulf of Maine, where lobsters, bluefish, crab, flounder and mussels are a major export, has been warming three times faster than the average rate of the world’s oceans since the 1980s, and the population of wild blue mussels has dropped 60% along the coast in that time, according to the Boston Globe.
The warming of that same body of water has also threatened the lobster industry in Maine: The catch off of the island of Vinalhaven, known for its lobster fishing, was the lowest in 2021 as it has been in a decade, the Globe reported, and the epicenter of the lobster population has moved 100 miles north into cooler waters toward Canada since the 1970s.
The Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska saw the disappearance of 10 billion snow crabs in 2022, devastating the state’s fishing industry in a crash scientists think is the fault of warmer ocean water—Erin Fedewa of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told PBS that a lack of sea ice in the region can lead to starvation and higher rates of disease in young crabs.
Climbing ocean temperatures are impacting mussels’ and oysters’ ability to grow their shells and conventional oyster habitats are shrinking due to warmer waters, but the heat also makes consuming the raw shellfish more dangerous than ever—warm waters allow Vibrio, a bacteria that makes people sick if they eat infected seafood, to thrive.
Salmon, the second most-consumed seafood in America according to the National Fisheries Institute, is also at risk: Two-thirds of the salmon consumed in the United States comes from farms that have dealt with a mass die-off as waters warm, while locations cold enough to farm the fish narrow, meaning the “industry is running out of viable sites for new farms,” a 2021 study showed.
A man shows an oyster in La Spezia, Italy on April 5, 2023.
The global average surface temperature of the world’s oceans hit 20.96 degrees Celsius (69.71 Fahrenheit) on July 30, the European Union climate observatory said, breaking a March 2016 record of 20.95 degrees Celsius. Parts of the north Atlantic Ocean are experiencing a category four marine heat wave, with some areas recording water temperatures nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their usual levels. Higher concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gasses, which trap heat that is later absorbed by oceans, are causing the rising temperatures, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Environmental Protection Agency says oceans have gotten warmer on average by one degree over the past century, and warmer temperatures threaten sea life, kill coral reefs and increase the potential for severe storms.
“The ocean heatwave is an immediate threat to some marine life,” said Piers Forster of the International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds.
40%. Areas in the tropics are expected to see 40% declines in potential seafood catch by 2050.
Blue Crabs wait in a bin at the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington, DC in 2005.
Global fisheries could lose as much as $10 billion of their annual revenue by 2050, according to Science Friday, and countries that are most dependent on fisheries for food—like Maldives, Iceland and Portugal—stand to be the hardest hit.The global seafood market was valued at $333.25 billion in 2022, according to Fortune Business Insights.
Not all creatures are negatively impacted by warming waters. Biologists and fishers say squid, or calamari, are not only quickly evolving to survive the changing ocean temperatures—they’re thriving. A Current Biology study says the population of cephalopods, which also includes octopus, have increased globally over the last six decades. Another study, published in the Journal of Marine and Coastal Fisheries, says the population along the Pacific coast multiplied by as much as 39 times between 1998 and 2019, and Oregon has a squid fishing industry for the first time as the animals move further north. The downside? The squid most commonly eaten by humans, including longfin squid and Humboldt squid, are major predators of shrimp and have led to the collapse of some shrimp populations, particularly during extreme heat waves. Jellyfish also thrive in warm waters, according to Science Friday, suggesting jellyfish-based dishes most common in China and Vietnam now could be seen as a more sustainable seafood option. The Vietnamese eat a traditional salad called Gỏi sứa with jellyfish, onions and fried rice, and a similar cold salad is popular in China’s northeastern provinces.
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As the Gulf of Maine warms, where are the mussels? (Boston Globe)
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