As U.S. waters warm, fish species might be forced to migrate North

Many fishing communities may need to adapt, as fish migrate to locations out of their jurisdiction. Source: InsideClimate News

Climate change is forcing plants and animals around the world to shift their ranges into higher and higher latitudes. Mangroves, butterflies, mosquitoes, and even fish are among the many that are fleeing their current habitats for cooler places to live. A new study found that 686 North American fish species might be forced to migrate hundreds of miles North to escape warmer ocean temperatures. The predicted migration pattern could cost fishing communities billions of dollars.

The North American shelf is experiencing ocean warming at a faster rate than other regions around the world. Because life on the North American shelf is so diverse and expansive, it is one of the most productive fishing regions. If this expected fish migration occurs, regional fisheries will be greatly impacted as fish will move across fishing boundaries. What is now a productive region might turn cold as fish species move North.

James Morley and his team found that there are 32 possible future outcomes for the 686 Atlantic and Pacific fish species included in their model. They used ecological survey data along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) emission scenarios to predict these outcomes. In almost every scenario, the fish species were projected to migrate North, impacting the fishing industries in some way. For example, the Atlantic cod in the New England habitat are projected to decline 90% by 2100. The New England cod fishery has been around for centuries; a decline this big could be catastrophic for New England’s economy.

Unless we curb our greenhouse gas emissions entirely, all fisheries will be impacted by warming in some way. Like other

Where are West Coast Fish Species Headed? Source: InsideClimate News

species who have already marched North to escape their warming habitats, fish will soon migrate North as well. The projections made by James Morley and his team could be used to identify and manage the fish species that are likely going to shift habitats. If we want to protect our fisheries and economy, we need to make sure we reduce our emission and push for clean energy.


  1. Berwyn, Bob. “Fish Species Forecast to Migrate Hundreds of Miles Northward as U.S. Waters Warm” InsideClimate News. 16 May 2018.
  2. Morley, J.W., Selden, R.L., Latour, R.J., Frolicher, T.L., Seagraves, R.J., Pinsky, M.L. (2018). Projecting shifts in thermal habitat for 686 species on the North American continental shelf. PLOS one: doi:
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Chelsea Barreto

Chelsea Barreto

I earned my Master's in Biology from Villanova University, studying how mangrove encroachment into saltmarshes is impacting microbial communities and belowground processes! I am interested in how climate change is impacting ecosystems around the globe! Currently, I teach environmental science to high schoolers, hoping they will one day save our planet. When I'm not working, I enjoy running, musicals, and science blogging @eco_clips.

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