Little is more British than a plate of fish and chips by the sea. But one unexpected result of climate change could see this morph into a more continental fare. As the North Sea warms, it is causing the more traditional cod and haddock to follow the colder waters north, while squid have vastly increased in numbers over the same time.
Analyzing data on fish catches from bottom trawling that have occurred in the North Sea over a 35 year period, researchers from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (Cefas), have found that the species frequenting the region has shifted over this period. Those animals that normally prefer warmer waters, such as squid, anchovies and sardines are now flourishing, while the cold water varieties are heading north.
“A lot of the things we see increasing in abundance around the UK are marine animals that would probably originally [be] thought of as being Mediterranean or characteristic of the Bay of Biscay, or around Portugal or Spain,” explained Dr John Pinnegar, the programme director for marine climate change at Cefas, to the BBC.
“They're now increasing in UK waters because the waters are getting more conducive for those sorts of species, whereas other species are shifting the centre of their distribution towards the north of the UK.”
Pinnegar has suggested that the fisheries surrounding the UK may now become more productive for species that Britons would usually associate with eating on holiday. While in the 1980s only 20 percent of survey stations in the North Sea caught squid, today 60 percent of stations are catching the cephalopods. But even though more and more squid are being caught in British waters, most of it is still being exported back to the continent.
While more traditional species such as cod used to swim the North Sea in vast numbers, after the stocks collapsed due to over fishing, they have been slow to recover. This could be because they have been struggling to reproduce in warming waters. With temperatures expected to continue to climb, the British public may need to adapt what they eat to species that are more sustainable.
As the catches for squid and octopuses around the globe continue to increase in step with the sea surface temperatures, perhaps the classic British dish will one day be squid and chips, instead.