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

  • Smoke Has Blotted Out the Sun in São Paulo as the Amazon Burns

    Smoke from human-ignited fires across the.

  • Anti-Protest Laws Are a Sign of Weakness

    Photo: AP Here is a simple.

  • Icelanders Mourn Loss of Okjökull Glacier With Ceremony, Plaque

    The shrinking of the Okjökull glacier.

  • Big Donors Are Pulling Out of Brazil’s Amazon Fund; That Could Spell Trouble for the Rainforest

    Photo: Getty Norway and Germany have.

  • Portugal Is Using Goats to Prepare for Wildfires, But There’s Not Enough Shepherds

    Goats used to clear brush in.

  • Elizabeth Warren’s Latest Plan Tackles U.S. Injustices Against Tribes and Their Lands

    Photo: Getty Elizabeth Warren is a.

  • Invasive Pests Are Devastating American Forests at an Alarming Rate

    New findings show that invasive species.

  • Hundreds Dead, a Million Displaced as Monsoon Rains Inundate India

    Look at all that water.Photo: AP.

  • Newark’s Lead-Tainted Water Crisis Is Getting Worse

    Photo: AP When Al Moussab had.

  • A Coalition of 22 States Are Suing the Trump Administration Over Its Weak Coal Rule

    New York State attorney general Letitia.

  • Lightning Struck Near the North Pole as the Arctic Continues to Unravel

    Photo: AP In the scheme of.

  • Endangered Species Act Faces Gutting by Trump Administration

    Photo: Getty At a time when.

  • So, Salmon Cannons Are A Thing

    Photo: Jeff Mitchell (Getty) A viral.

  • At Least 22 Dead, Over a Million Reported Displaced as Typhoon Lekima Makes Landfall in Eastern China

    At least 22 deaths have been.

  • Trump Administration Authorizes ‘Cyanide Bombs’ to Kill Feral Hogs. Seriously.

    Photo: Eric Gay (AP) On Thursday.

  • Mauna Kea’s Thirty Meter Telescope Is the Latest Front in the New Fight for Indigenous Sovereignty

    Native Hawaiian activists pray at the.

  • Twin Typhoons Approach East Asia With Terrifying Force

    Super Typhoon Lekima and Typhoon KrosaGIF:.

  • Welp, Using Volcanoes to Understand Geoengineering Might Not Really Work

    Eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the.

  • If You Think 30-50 Feral Hogs Sounds Bad, Just Wait

    Photo: Eric Gay (AP) Hey, it’s.

  • A Global Water Emergency Is Right Around the Corner—Unless We Stop It

    Photo: AP When Chennai, India’s main.

  • ‘Surprise’ Ocean Heat Waves Are Becoming More Common

    Photo: Getty There are two flavors.

  • July ‘Equalled, If Not Surpassed’ Record for World’s Hottest Month

    Photo: AP Sometimes the headline says.

  • Greenland Lost 12.5 Billion Tons of Ice in Record-Breaking, Single-Day Meltdown

    Image: Sean Gallup (Getty) After Greenland.

  • Climate Change Has Made Our Stormwater Infrastructure Obsolete

    Photo: AP We are not ready.

  • This Satellite Image Shows Everything Wrong With Greenland Right Now

    Photo: Getty If you could sum.

  • California Is First State Where Utilities Must Tell Customers if Their Water Is Contaminated by Dangerous Chemicals

    Photo: Getty If you don’t know.

  • Thunderstorms, 70 MPH Winds Could Affect Up to 52 Million People in the Northeast Today

    Photo: AP Powerful storms are roaring.

  • This Coalnado Is About as 2019 as It Gets

    GIF: Meredith Garofalo (Twitter) If last.

  • Are We Watching the Arctic Pass a Tipping Point This Summer?

    Wildfires burning in Siberia on July.

  • Why We’re Not Moving Forward With Our Climate Summit

    Illustration: Illustration: G/O Media/Getty A good.

  • Vietnam Seizes 275-Pound Haul of Rhino Horns, Seven Frozen Tiger Carcasses

    Image: Elaine Thompson (AP) In a.

  • Europe’s Heat Wave Threatens Record Melting of Greenland Ice Sheet

    The Greenland ice sheetPhoto: AP A.