Report on fisheries spatial distribution responding to climate-related factors and ecological change

Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) will become ever more important as the effects of climate change on ecosystems and fisheries around the world grow. Among those effects, many fish stocks are expected to shift geographically. Stocks are also likely to undergo other shifts, for example, individuals within a stock may become smaller compared to historical averages. Altogether, changes in fish stocks and their distribution will likely affect where and how fishing fleets operate.

In this report, our Spatial Management Impacts on Ecological Systems and Fisheries theme explores how fisheries in the North Sea, Western Waters, and Mediterranean might respond to climate-related factors and to changes in distributions of fish stocks over the coming decades up to 2060. Knowledge resulting from this will be helpful to managers seeking to devise EBFM strategies that can respond to such changes.

SEAwise research

To investigate this the results of an earlier SEAwise report on historic and future spatial distribution of fished stocks were combined with data derived from Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) on where, when and for how long fleets fish. Together, these were used to model potential future changes in the spatial distributions of the fisheries in focus, which included beam trawlers and German bottom trawlers in the North Sea, bottom trawlers in the Eastern Ionian Sea, beam trawlers in the Celtic Sea, and the Basque fleet in the Bay of Biscay.

Contrary to our expectations, the models showed that climate change is expected to have only a limited influence on the spatial distribution of the examined fisheries in the future. The researchers thought that this was probably because they focused on demersal species, which live and feed near or on the seabed and are likely to show smaller distribution changes under climate change in comparison to pelagic ones, which are found higher up in the water column and often in the open seas.

The researchers also suggest that some species may have already undergone historical distribution shifts as a result of earlier human changes to the environment; for example, modifications to estuaries in the 20th century may have affected nursery areas. Such past changes could therefore confound our ability to work out what contributions climate change may now be making. As such, human activities in the present and resulting changes to key fish habitats may contribute to future shifts in fish stocks – highlighting again the importance of implementing EBFM, which can holistically consider all these factors.

What happens next?

The results of this research are expected to be included in SEAwise’s upcoming EBFM toolbox. They also indicate that a future focus of research should be future developments in fuel and fish prices, as the researchers suspect that these factors are likely to affect demersal fisheries more than climate change in the coming decades. 

Read the full report here.

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