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Octopus May Replace Cod in British Waters, Thanks to Climate Change

According to the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, rising seawater temperatures are attracting octopus to UK coastlines, while cold water fish like cod head north.
Photo via Flickr user grahamvphoto.

The future of our seafood supply isn't looking great. According to a recent report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, we're dangerously close to reaching the limit for sustainable fishing, with 90 percent of the world's stocks now classified as being overfished. And studies show that even if you think you're making sustainable seafood choices, the tuna in your maki could actually be an endangered species. Or contain tiny bits of plastic.


Last week brought more bad news for our fishy friends. A report from the UK Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) found that rising seawater temperatures—a result of climate change—are having a detrimental impact on the underwater ecosystem.

The findings bring together contributions from more than 400 scientists over the last ten years to conclude that seawater temperatures are rising at a rate of 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade. The change might sound insignificant but researchers say that it has huge impact on the fish and shellfish that inhabit UK waters.

In the last decade, the waters around the British coastline have seen a dramatic increase in seafood usually found in the Mediterranean. The report states that warm water species like squid, octopus, and Atlantic bluefin tuna are now more commonplace around the UK and have the potential to "become available for commercial exploitation." Indeed squid is already a popular target for British fishermen—last year, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) found that it was caught at 60 percent of the fishing stations surveyed in the UK, compared to 20 percent in the 1980s.

The MCCIP report also found that in the face of rising temperatures, cold water fish species like cod are swimming north out of UK fisheries in search of cooler climes. The decline of these cold water fish not only impacts stocks for commercial fishing, but also the survival of seabirds who rely on them for food.

MUNCHIES reached out to Dr. Matthew Frost, deputy director of The Marine Biological Association who led the MCCIP report, to find out what to make of these changes to British fish populations.

He told us: "It is difficult to say whether a change is good or bad as this is more a value judgement beyond the realm of science that just records and/or predicts change. It may be good that Atlantic bluefin tuna are appearing in greater numbers as they are endangered and top marine predators are a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem. But if this same change is causing bird populations to decrease, then it can't just be seen as a 'good news story.' The marine environment is highly interconnected and needs to be considered as a whole."

The future for our waters remains murky.