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Record Atlantic Warmth Creates 'Fisheries Disaster' September 21, 2012
Satellite Image
Atlantic cod distribution continues a northeasterly shift, with the spring 2012 census showing the warming continues to drive them toward cooler waters.
The Atlantic waters off the northeastern United States warmed to the highest levels ever recorded during the first six months of 2012, from the surface all the way down to the ocean floor, according to a new government report.

NOAA’s latest Ecosystems Advisory declared a fisheries disaster in parts of the area, known as the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem, due to the record warmth’s effects on cold-water fish species.

The agency says that virtually all ocean life is being affected by the unprecedented warmth, including cod, which have been driven much farther north than their historic habitat.

The average sea surface temperature from North Carolina to Maine was just over 50.5 degrees Fahrenheit from January through June, compared to the long-term average of about 48 degrees.

Some areas were 6 degrees warmer than normal with temperature records for the coastal waters going back to as early as 1854.

The warmth triggered one of the longest and most intense plankton blooms ever observed early this year—a sign marine biologists say demonstrates the coastal ecology is undergoing dramatic changes.

NOAA says it doesn’t know if the warming will continue or if the cod and other species will return to their previous distributions.

It points out that even though fishermen are adhering to tough catch quotas, the number of cod, yellowtail flounder and other native fish are not rebounding with the warmer currents.

“Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing of the spring plankton bloom could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature,” said NOAA scientist Kevin Friedland.

Graphic: NOAA