Climate Change Is Coming for Your Tuna

Photo: Getty

Climate change seems to threaten everything we hold dear, from coffee to beer  to Tabasco sauce. Now, one of America’s favorite seafood items—tuna—is in hot water, too.

New research published in Global Change Biology finds that of 22 studied tuna stocks, 20 have already shifted their ranges due to climate change, with even more significant shifts predicted in the near future. The analysis encompassed six of the seven most economically important tuna species, including albacore, Atlantic bluefin, and yellowfin. Some major tuna stocks are starting to move away from where coastal fishing fleets can easily reach them, while others are moving into new habitats that might not be able to support a large number of predatory fish.

This study not only analyzed range shifts that have already happened over the last few decades, but predicted future shifts under a high carbon emissions scenario. Overall, it points to potentially widespread economic disruptions that the tuna industry needs to begin planning for.

“Many fish species [not just tuna] are shifting, moving to colder water and greater depths,” lead study author Maite Erauskin-Extramiana, a PhD student at the Spanish research institute AZTI, told Earther. “Some freshwater fish have moved upstream in rivers, while warm water fish species in the ocean have been reported to be expanding their distribution limits.”

When it comes to tuna, these range shifts are likely to be important for fishing nations: If you’re only catching tuna in one place and the fish move elsewhere, a lot of people could be put out of work very quickly. In addition, the mass migration of large predators into new environments can lead to ecological disruption. The new habitats tunas are moving to may have different food or less food available, resulting in all kinds of problems for them, or for the fish that live there already.

“We just do not how tunas and the oceanic ecosystems will perform in the new situation,” Haritz Arrizabalaga of AZTI, the study’s senior author, told Earther.

Arrizabalaga noted that the shifts may indicate good news in some cases, as some tuna stocks are likely to increase or become more easily accessible to some fishing fleets. But overall, the high value of today’s tuna fisheries makes the implications of these results alarming. Grantly Galland, a Regional Fisheries Management Organization Officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts who was not involved with the study, noted that Pew estimates the global tuna catch is worth at least at least 42 billion at the final point of sale.

“We know from examples of smaller, shorter changes to tuna distribution, caused by local or regional environmental variability or stock decline, that these changes can negatively affect fishing operations,” Galland said. “ If larger, longer range shifts become the norm, the effects we’ve observed locally may be intensified and may occur over a wider area.”

Galland also emphasized that the largest threat currently facing tunas and tuna fisheries is not climate change-induced range shifts, but overfishing— Pacific bluefin tuna, for example, has been reduced to about 3 percent of what it was before humans started fishing it.

The study’s authors stressed that some of the negative economic effects can be minimized if fishing nations, especially smaller fishing ones that rely on locally accessible stocks, start planning now. This kind of planning can include investing in newer boats or fishing gear and renegotiating fishing agreements with other nations so that they’re not left behind when the tuna leave their waters.

As for what consumers can do, well, it may be time to start getting into California rolls.


more recommended stories

  • Segregation Has Left a Legacy of Asthma and Pollution in California Cities

    Lots of elements factor into whether.

  • Trash-Burning Power Plants Wind Up in Our Most Marginalized Communities, Report Finds

    The Harrisburg incinerator in PennsylvaniaPhoto: AP.

  • Atlantic Hurricane Season Could Be Getting a Head Start This Week

    Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on.

  • The Southern Plains Is at High Risk of ‘Violent’ Tornadoes on Monday

    Damage from April tornadoes in the.

  • State Rejects NYC’s Big New Pipeline Project—For Now

    NYC, baby.Photo: Getty On Wednesday night,.

  • A Real Bird Watcher Watches Netflix’s Animated Tuca & Bertie

    A mixed flock.Image: Netflix/Pavrabec/Diego Delso/Mdf/Fernando de.

  • A Huge Swath of the U.S. Could See Tornadoes Over the Next Five Days

    Photo: Getty A dangerous weather setup.

  • Scientist Composes Game of Thrones-Worthy Song From Climate Change Data

    Screenshot: YouTube Have you ever wondered.

  • A Quarter of West Antarctica’s Ice Is Now Unstable, Study Finds

    Stop me if you’ve heard this.

  • Winter Is Coming Back to California With a Series of Wild Storms

    A man uses a paddle board.

  • It Was 84 Degrees in Northern Russia This Weekend

    Photo: AP Scattered clouds gave the.

  • Giant Pile of Toxic Coal Ash Is Being Moved From Puerto Rico to Florida, Sparking Outcry

    Not the Puerto Rican coal ash.

  • Wildfires Smoke Is Enveloping Mexico City and Could Reach the U.S. This Week

    Photo: AP It doesn’t matter if.

  • Thanks to Fox News, Republicans Now Hate the Green New Deal

    Photo: AP For a brief, shining.

  • Google Wants to Use AI to Track Pollution from Every Power Plant on Earth

    Not a satellite, but that is.

  • The Most Toxic Place You Could Go This Weekend Might Be a Nail Salon

    Photo: Getty I’m somewhat obsessed with.

  • New Exhibit Asks Us to Radically Rethink How We Live With Nature

    It was a bad week if.

  • Teaching Girls About Climate Change Can Help Their Parents Care Too, Study Finds

    Photo: Getty Kids are out here.

  • Why Flight Attendants Should Lead the Fight Against Climate Change

    Photo: Getty In recent months, the.

  • Most National Parks Have ‘Significant Air Pollution Problems,’ New Report Finds

    The Rocky Mountain National Park in.

  • Scientists Say They’ve Cooked Up an Endlessly Recyclable Plastic

    Behold, the regular evil plastic we.

  • Scientist Dream of a Future Where Your AC Unit Sucks Carbon Out of the Sky

    Air conditioners rule the world.Photo: Getty.

  • How Students Convinced Beto O’Rourke to Stop Taking Fossil Fuel Money

    Photo: Getty The transformation of Beto.

  • New Board Game Challenges Players to Design a Perfect Planet

    This is how you prepare to.

  • Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee Proposes Shutting Down America’s Coal Industry in a Decade

    Photo: Getty Jay Inslee, the first.

  • The Last of the Arctic’s Old Sea Ice Is on the Verge of Vanishing

    Photo: Getty Pour one out for.

  • The House Just Passed Its First Climate Change Bill in a Decade, and That’s Not Even the Sad Part

    Here is the moment Democrats introduced.

  • Powerful Cyclone Bears Down on India, Forcing Millions to Evacuate

    Cyclone Fani is bearing down on.

  • In World First, UK Declares Climate Change Emergency

    Photo: Getty The House of Commons.

  • Downtown Davenport, Iowa Floods After Temporary Levees Fail

    Flooding in Davenport, Iowa on April.

  • Beto O’Rourke’s First Policy Proposal Is a $5 Trillion Plan to Tackle Climate Change

    Photo: AP If you want further.

  • We Have to Do Something About Outdoor Cats

    MeowIllustration: Chelsea Beck/GMG I hate outdoor.