Changing spatial distribution of fish stocks in relation to climate and population size on the Northeast United States continental shelf

Janet A. Nye, Jason S. Link, Jonathan A. Hare, William J. Overholtz
Posted on: 6/24/2016 - Updated on: 1/17/2019

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We tested the hypothesis that recent oceanographic changes associated with climate change in the Northeast United States continental shelf ecosystem have caused a change in spatial distribution of marine fish. To do this, we analyzed temporal trends from 1968 to 2007 in the mean center of biomass, mean depth, mean temperature of occurrence, and area occupied in each of 36 fish stocks. Temporal trends in distribution were compared to time series of both local- and large-scale environmental variables, as well as estimates of survey abundance. Many stocks spanning several taxonomic groups, life-history strategies, and rates of fishing exhibited a poleward shift in their center of biomass, most with a simultaneous increase in depth, and a few with a concomitant expansion of their northern range. However, distributional changes were highly dependent on the biogeography of each species. Stocks located in the southern extent of the survey area exhibited much greater poleward shifts in center of biomass and some occupied habitats at increasingly greater depths. In contrast, minimal changes in the center of biomass were observed in stocks with distributions limited to the Gulf of Maine, but mean depth of these stocks increased while stock size decreased. Largescale temperature increase and changes in circulation, represented by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, was the most important factor associated with shifts in the mean center of biomass. Stock size was more often correlated with the total area occupied by each species. These changes in spatial distribution of fish stocks are likely to persist such that stock structure should be re-evaluated for some species.


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