NOAA: Climate Change Will Likely Send West Coast Fish Farther Offshore

Image: NOAA Fisheries.

Scientists at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center say their research shows that shifting ocean conditions associated with climate change will likely send high-value sablefish into deeper waters off the West Coast.

This means vessels may have to travel farther and fish deeper in order to keep catching fish.

The new report, which provides a glimpse of what West Coast fisheries will look like with climate change, notes that fishing crews must always balance the value of different commercial species against the distances involved in catching them, but that climate change could alter that equation in new ways.

Researchers studied how four species of West Coast groundfish commonly caught together may respond to climate change. They include sablefish, Dover sole, shortspine thornyhead and longspine thornyhead. These four species together accounted for 53% of bottom-trawl groundfish revenue off the Pacific Coast over the last decade.

Owen Liu, a researcher with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said that together these are a large proportion of the groundfish caught off the West Coast, so they may provide some indication of how things may change and the choices those changes present to the fishing community.

“This may not be good news for the fisheries, but it hopefully provides some foresight into how distributions may shift and gives fisheries and managers time to consider how to adapt to these changes,” Liu said.

The research, published in the journal Science Advances, can help the commercial fishing fleet and fisheries managers prepare for changes climate change may bring to the ecosystem, the researchers said.

Climate models predict warming temperatures and declining oxygen levels in waters off the West Coast, which is dominated by the California Current. Temperatures and oxygen levels are known to affect the distribution of fish species.