The classic British dish of cod and chips may be replaced by squid and chips in the future, as global warming pushes out cold water fish and replaces them with warm water species.
New research suggests that Great British fish suppers could become more like those enjoyed in Spain and Portugal, as UK waters warm due to climate change, cold water fish such as cod are gradually being replaced by warm water species like squid, red mullet and sardine.
It suggests that squid is now three times as widespread in the North Sea has it was two decades ago, while cod stocks are less than a quarter of their level in 1971.
Seawater temperature rising
“Our models for 2025 and beyond suggest that seawater temperature may continue to rise in the future. As a result, UK waters will become more hospitable for some species and less suitable for others, with the overall result that most commercial species will move northwards,” says Dr John Pinnegar of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).
He is lead author of a new study being presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting in Liverpool this week.
“UK consumers enjoy eating quite a limited range of seafood, but in the long term we will need to adapt our diets.In 2025 and beyond, we may need to replace cod and other old favourites with warm-water species such as squid, mackerel, sardine and red mullet,” Dr Pinnegar added.
Cefas has been monitoring North Sea fish populations for the past 114 years. Using detailed records of where fish are caught and of water temperature, it has detected long-term changes in abundance and relate them to climate change and fishing intensity – as well as predict what the North Sea might look like in future.
Soaring squid numbers
The data show that squid numbers have increased dramatically over the past 35 years. In 1984, Cefas found squid at only 20 per cent of its 76 survey stations in the North Sea, compared with 60 per cent in 2014. But while squid is on the rise, cod numbers have been slow to recover after overfishing. From a total stock biomass of 1.3 million tonnes in 1971, cod numbers fell to their lowest recorded level of 124,000 tonnes in 2004, the research shows.
Following strengthened management of cod fishing, biomass increased to 295,000 tonnes last year. Although this level is considered sustainable, scientists believe the slow recovery is because the warming waters of the North Sea in recent years have hit cod reproduction.
The results have important implications – for both UK fish suppers and the fishing industry.