Atlantic cod and many other commercially valuable fish in New England have been shifting northeast from their historical distribution centers in recent years because of warming waters, while warm water was blamed for lobsters shedding their shells far earlier than usual last year, leading to a glut that created havoc within the industry.
Fishermen out of Gloucester have noted the shifting of cod and have said that this cycling — not alleged “overfishing” — is at the root of NOAA stock assessments that have found relatively few fish in traditional areas and, thus, triggered dire new catch limits that have crippled the industry.
At the same time, species that normally live in warmer waters are showing up with greater frequency off New England, scientists say, largely because of rising ocean temperatures. Other factors, such as fishing pressure and environmental changes including increased acidification and lower salinity levels, are believed to be at play.
Third-generation fisherman Rodman Sykes, who fishes out of Point Judith, R.I., said he’s been catching more barndoor and clear-nose skates and torpedo rays. And dockside workers have reported seeing mahi mahi swim by.
The fish aren’t abundant enough yet to make money from. But in time, he said, fishermen in southern New England could benefit financially from the newcomers.
“But I’m more fearful for the guys down south who might be losing some of their opportunities,” Sykes said. “Maybe something will replace them, or they’ll become more spread out. Or maybe they’ll come up here and go back down there for the winter.”
Many of the warmer-water species that are now becoming more common have been coming to New England for years but in smaller numbers, said Mike Fogarty, chief of the ecosystem assessment program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.