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Marine Science



UK climate change impacts ‘could affect commercial fisheries’.  The newly published Marine Climate Change Impact Report Card 2020 says that by 2050, climate change driven impacts ‘could become a major constraint on some commercial species’ distributions in the North Sea.

The report summarises the latest evidence from 26 topics regarding the physical, ecological, and social and economic impacts of climate change on UK coasts and seas. New topics for this year include oxygen, cultural heritage, and transport and infrastructure.

More than 150 scientists from over 50 leading research organisations have contributed to this year’s Report Card, producing 26 peer-reviewed scientific reports which give detailed information regarding the evidence bases on UK marine climate change impacts.

Key headlines

  • There is clear evidence that warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification and sea-level rise are already affecting UK coasts and seas. Increasingly, these changes are having an impact on food webs, with effects seen in seabed-dwelling species, as well as plankton, fish, birds and mammals.
  • The upper range for the latest UK sea-level rise projections is higher than previous estimates, implying increased coastal-flood risk. The likelihood of compound effects from tidal flooding and extreme rainfall is increasing, which can greatly exacerbate flood impacts.
  • Oxygen concentrations in UK seas are projected to decline more than the global average, especially in the North Sea.
  • Fisheries productivity in some UK waters has been negatively impacted by ocean warming and historical overexploitation.
  • Impacts of climate change have already been observed at a range of heritage sites. Coastal assets will be subjected to enhanced rates of erosion, inundation and weathering or decay.

The report states: “There have been substantial changes in fish communities in UK waters, linked to the appearance of warm-water species (e.g. European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus) and local declines of some cold-water species (e.g. eelpout Zoarces viviparus).

“Warming temperatures have affected the timing of spawning among species. For example, warming has led to earlier spawning for sole, but for Raitt’s sandeel, warming delays reproductive development. Warming and associated oxygen solubility appears to be affecting the age at maturation, growth rates, and the maximum size fish can attain.”

Although the outcomes are still very much uncertain, it is possible that commercial fisheries will be affected.

The report says:  “Experiments suggest that Atlantic cod larvae may experience higher mortality rates due to ocean acidification compared with European seabass and herring larvae. By 2050, climate-driven changes in suitable available habitat could become a major constraint on some commercial species’ distributions in the North Sea.”