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Climate change ‘putting UK saltwater species at risk’

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Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England: “Report underlines the profound wide ranging impacts of climate change”.

Popular British saltwater species like cod could be wiped out as a result of climate change, according to a new study by marine scientists.

The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, which authored the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) study, reports that increasingly warm and acidic oceans are inhospitable for the cold-water fish on which fishermen rely.

It says that by 2050 there will be major changes in the distribution of species in the North Sea and that fish from warmer climes are already populating our oceans.

The findings, revealed in The Daily Telegraph, are unwelcome news for both the recreational angling industry and commercial sector, both already handicapped by catch restrictions and declining stocks.

The northern hake, a warm water species, has recolonised the northern North Sea after being absent for decades. Scientists have also noted the decline of some cold-water species.

Cod is at risk because Atlantic cod larvae may suffer higher mortality rates due to ocean acidification. And sandeels, a staple food that many species such as cod rely upon, are appearing later in the year as warming delays reproductive development.

Fish are also likely to become smaller as they have to travel further for their prey in warmer waters, thus expending more energy, says the report.

In addition, warming and associated oxygen solubility also appear to be affecting growth rates and the maximum size fish will grow to.

One upside for anglers – reported in the February issue of Angling International –  is that more sport fish may be found in UK waters. Increasing numbers of Atlantic Bluefin tuna have been reported, calling for the establishment of a tuna fishery. Other warm water fish have been detected in the Channel Islands, including the Atlantic bonito, a popular species among anglers.

“This report underlines the profound and wide-ranging impacts already being caused to our marine environment by climate change,” Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, told The Telegraph. 

“The UK is taking strong steps to safeguard the health of the ocean environment that is so vital for our wellbeing. More is needed, however, including the vigorous pursuit of the UK’s net zero emissions goal. 

“In 2020, countries from around the world will come together at global summits where greater collective action to tackle climate change and increase marine protections could be agreed.”

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