As Waters Warm, Arctic Fish Populations Change
A new report shows more fish are moving to Arctic waters. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management teamed up to create the inventory, which describes more than 100 species of fish found in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas — including 20 species new to the region.
The Alaska Arctic Marine Fish Ecology Catalog for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas has been a long time coming. Biologist Milton Love has been working on the project since 2009. He says both Arctic seas appear to be changing.
“We’re starting to see either new introductions of temperate fishes from the south or at least larger numbers of them, particularly in the Beaufort Sea,” said Love.
At this point, Love isn’t sure what these changes mean for fish traditionally found in the Arctic. Since the area has historically been difficult to sample, it’s hard to establish if fish are coming from the south, growing in population, or both.
One species that could be affected is Arctic cod, a major player in the marine food web. Love says the species does better in near-freezing water.
“If ice becomes less predominant over time and waters warm, then perhaps Arctic cod will not do as well,” he said. “There are a number of predatory birds and mammals that certainly feed in great quantity on Arctic cod.”
If those species aren’t able to eat anything else, they could be impacted, too.
Because of the importance of Arctic cod, the team analyzed the effects of a warming climate on the species as well as its major competitor – saffron cod. As temperatures rise, both species will likely shift north. That would expand the range for saffron cod, but restrict the range for Arctic cod.
Love sees a wide range of uses for the new report, from evaluating environmental impacts on the region to monitoring changes in fish distribution and managing fisheries. It also includes traditional Iñupiaq names to improve communication between researchers and local communities.