Eli Palleschi

Recently, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, fishermen have been reeling in butterfish, a species normally not found in the area. Butterfish are normally found in North and South Carolina, but they are being forced up north because of global warming.

More fish are starting to show up in places that they normally wouldn’t be found. According to National Geographic, some fish such as the Atlantic cod are being caught one hundred and twenty-five miles away from where they used to be found ten years ago.

But it’s not just butterfish and Atlantic cod that are being found far away from their usual habitat. Hundreds of species of fish are being caught miles away from their habitat every year. This issue of moving fish is all because of climate change.

Humans are releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We use things such as fossil fuels that impact the environment. When we release this gas from everyday objects such as cars, those gases stay up in the atmosphere and trap radiation from the sun. The radiation trapped in the atmosphere is making the Earth – and its oceans – hotter.

Because of global warming, the temperature has risen 1ºF. This may not seem like much, but it is still causing the migrations. If the water temperature changes just a small amount, the fish sense it.

Over two-thirds of the oceans species have moved in the past decade due to climate change. According to National Geographic, the majority of the fish are moving an average of forty miles away from their natural habitat per decade.

James Sulikowski, a marine sciences professor at the University of New England, states, “Most marine fish species are poikilothermic ectotherms, meaning that their body temperatures reflect environmental temperature. As such, these fishes have evolved  to live within a specific range of environmental parameters. Exposure to conditions outside of this range can be stressful, inducing  potentially fatal changes in their bodies. Consequently, one response to  climate change in fishes is to move/migrate  in order to stay within their preferred temperature ranges. So what happens is some fish move out of an area that is becoming too warm.”

In less scientific terms, that means fish have specific body temperatures that are dependant on the ocean temperature. If the ocean temperature surrounding the fish habitat gets warmer or colder, the fish become stressed and can die. The solution for the fish is to move to an area that has a more suitable temperature.

According to Dr. Sulikowski, human impacts on the ocean ecosystem are “complex and occur in an assortment of ways that include changes to food webs, ocean circulation, and ocean acidification.” Global warming is impacting fish migration and is also causing drastic changes to the food web.

With more fish migrating, the chance of other species migrating also increases. Ben Goldfarb of  Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies states that the butterfish moving up to Cape Cod are pushing other species further north.

The Atlantic puffins do not have the food they regularly eat because it is being pushed away by the butterfish. Puffins normally eat herring but the invasive butterfish have pushed them away from Cape Cod. Adult puffins end up bringing butterfish to their children because of the absence of herring. The end result is the baby puffins die because the butterfish are too big to fit in their mouths. The mortality rate of puffins is rising. This can set off the whole food chain. The animals that eat puffins will start to die, and so on.

The migration of fish doesn’t just affect the other aquatic species. It affects humans, too. Some people primarily rely on fish for food and if the fish all move away, there is nothing to eat. Fishing industries also do worse in these conditions because of the diminishing fish population  in the area.

This especially affects people that live in areas of high greenhouse gas emissions because it is warmer there. Some species of fish have moved six hundred miles to get away from areas with high greenhouse gas emissions.

Although fish moving is impacting some areas in the world terribly, some areas are doing better because of it. In the areas that fish are moving to, the fishing industry is booming.

Even though climate change has already impacted the location of some fish species, there are still ways to prevent it from happening more.

According  to the Ocean Portal Team at the Smithsonian, a way to stop all of this is to have greenhouse gas regulations. The fish are moving because greenhouse gases are trapping radiation in the atmosphere and making the ocean warmer. Regulations would slow down the climate change and would stop fish from going even further than their original habitat.

There is still a debate about this because not all people are in support of greenhouse gas regulations. The Ocean Portal Team website states,“The debate is happening now:do we continue burning fossil fuels at the same rate and prepare for living on a warmer planet? Or do we enact laws to enforce curbs on emissions at all levels?”

If greenhouse gas regulations went into motion, it could prevent a lot of animals that are moving more north each year from doing so. It could eventually get things back to how they used to be with animals in their original habitats.

Eli Palleschi is an eighth-grade student and part of the Sebago Team at Saco Middle School. Read more Saco Middle School student articles about environmental issues at https://smssebago.weebly.com/8th-grade-humanities.html   

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