July 02, 2008

Climate Change and Seafood

National Geographic is reporting on the findings of a University of Rhode Island study of the ecosystem in Narragansett Bay based on data gathered over the past 50 years. The composition of the Bay's ecosystem has changed in a number of ways. Bottom fish population have declined dramatically and appear to have been replaced by invertebrates such as lobster, squid and scallops.

Squid, Lobster Numbers Rise as Fish Fall Due to Warming

...Scientists from the University of Rhode Island (URI) say rising sea temperatures linked to global warming is the primary cause of shifts in the abundance and types of species living in the bay and adjacent Rhode Island Sound...

"These major changes in marine ecosystems are being recognized to be reasonably common, and the shift from groundfish to invertebrates such as crabs, prawns, and scallops has been seen in quite a few places," he said...

A founder of URI's Graduate School of Oceanography began the trawling surveys of the bay in 1959.

Several generations of researchers and students have kept up the work since then, and the survey now represents what may be the world's longest-running record of its kind.

"Many of the things you hear about the effects of warming are sometimes anecdotal, because people don't have the records of what was there before," study author Collie said. "We have the record..."

Of the animals that still live at the bottom of the bay, a much higher proportion is made up of invertebrates, which Collie believes moved in to fill the void left by fish...

The survey shows that sea-surface temperature in the area of the trawls has increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) since 1959...

Still, Collie thinks the new research isn't signaling a death knell for ocean systems.

"The productivity of the ecosystem will continue," he said.

"The worst-case scenario is the whole functioning of the system is collapsing. We haven't seen that yet, but we're looking."
I enjoy shellfish more than fish and lobster is my favorite food bar none. Still, such wholesale shifts in ecosystems should certainly be seen as red flags. The changes are bound to have effects outside of the immediate areas in which they occur; there are very few truly isolated ecosystems and most of those have relatively low diversity and occur in extreme environments.

I have no problem with an increased supply, and theoretically the subsequent fall in the price, of squid and lobster. This isn't the way to go about creating that increase, though.

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