Fisherman catching black sea bass  Photo: North Carolina Sea Grant

Warming ocean temperatures are causing fish populations to migrate north, complicating fisheries management and fishing businesses that are not able to keep up because the fishery-specific regulations and catch quotas are regional and they no longer align with where the fish are being found.  

  • “The fish are moving, and the regulations have got to move with the fish,” Bobby Guzzo, 62, a lifelong fisherman from Stonington, Connecticut told E&ENews.

Why This Matters: Fish population shifts create problems for both coastal fishing communities and commercial markets and this will continue until the government acts. Fishermen now are not able to catch the fish near them because they do not have permits, or worse yet, they are catching those “wrong” fish only to have to throw them back dead or dying — a total waste. So they see their income drop, and that in turn hurts the related businesses in their communities. Or even worse, the fishermen bring them to port anyway and those “illegal” fish end up in the black market.  Many worry that if fishermen were allowed to go ahead and catch the migrating fish, those stocks might get depleted before science-based catch limits could be put in place.  The government has emergency authority to regulate fishing but they are reluctant to take these decisions away from local councils that currently have the authority to set the limits.  This is truly a tragedy of the commons.

Black Sea Bass Are The Poster Fish of this Phenomenon:  Populations of black sea bass, a popular fish that has high commercial value, have shifted north but regulatory permits for the species have not changed in two decades.

  • Consequently, North Carolina fishermen are allowed to catch 11% of the total black sea bass population, while Connecticut gets only 1%, according to regulators and scientists, even though many more black sea bass are now found in the ocean off Connecticut than the Carolinas.
  • But as a result, everyone loses — Connecticut fishermen, who can only watch as fishermen from North Carolina travel up to Connecticut to catch their quotas of black sea bass, and North Carolina fishermen who now spend much more time and fuel to catch the same fish.

Lobsters, Cod and Other Species Are Moving Too.  In a study of 686 marine species, researchers last year predicted that nearly two-thirds of fish species would shift location over the next 80 years, with some moving as much as a thousand miles or more.

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