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September 28, 2013

As ocean warms, fish species move northward

Fish commonly found in warm ocean waters to the south have become more common in New England as ocean temperatures rise, statistics show.

And over the past two years, fishermen in southern New England have seen an increase in croaker, cobia and spot, species more commonly found in waters off the mid-Atlantic. Certain types of skates and blue crabs are also becoming more numerous, fishermen say.

In the colder Gulf of Maine waters north of Cape Cod and east and north of Cape Ann, black sea bass have become more prevalent the past two summers. Longfin squid, which are found primarily south of Cape Cod, were present in Maine waters during the 2012 summer, resulting in new fisheries and markets being developed for the season. These were fish that in prior years did not venture north of Cape Cod.

Before last year, lobster fisherman David Cousens of South Thomaston, Maine, had seen only one ocean sunfish in nearly 40 years of pulling traps. This summer, he’s seen several of them, sometimes days in a row.

Cousens even found some sea horses in his traps last summer. Scientists say there have also been reports of triggerfish and filefish — colorful species that look more suited to an aquarium — and juvenile snowy grouper, which is normally found in the Caribbean or off the southern U.S.

“There’s no question the Gulf of Maine is changing rapidly,” Cousens said. “Stuff you’ve never seen in your lifetime that you would think would take 200 or 300 years to slowly change has happened in the past 20 or 30 years — the last 10 years, really. It’s scary, but what are you going to do about it? You can’t stop global warming.”

Ocean temperatures worldwide are rising rapidly, with some of the fastest warming taking place in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Temperatures off the Northeast U.S. hit an all-time high during the ocean heat wave of 2012, affecting virtually all ocean life.

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