How Are Arctic Fish Affected By Climate Change? The fish species in the Arctic Ocean are part of a worldwide ecosystem. And each part is being interrelated and interdependent. But Arctic fish are widely considered more susceptible to the effects of climate change, particularly to the warming ocean temperatures. It is because they have highly-specialized habits, in eating, food hunting, the place they live, and their reproduction process.
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There’s also the fact that the Arctic fish themselves are food for seabirds and marine mammals living in the Arctic Ocean. They are then a vital link in the marine food chain, and their depletion, among other changes, will have effects on the totality of the marine ecosystem.
Threats to Arctic Cod Population Seen
The exact number of fish species in the Arctic cannot be determined because of the challenges of exploration, particularly of the depths of its ocean. But recent surveys estimate about 240 fish species in the region, mostly snailfishes, sculpins, cods, and eelpouts, with the Arctic cod being arguably the most numerous.
The Arctic cod also plays a vital role in the food chain in many ways. It acts as a link between the marine life in the water column and sea ice food webs and the marine life at higher levels of the food chain. For example, it’s the primary food source for seals, seabirds, and whales, while it’s also predator to many species of fish.
But with the warming of the oceans causing the loss of sea ice, Arctic cod populations may be at risk. Also, during the early life stages of Arctic cod, they are largely dependent on the sea ice as their habitat. But with the loss of sea ice, their reproduction cycle and, thus, their population will be at risk.
Changes in Migration Patterns Have Been Observed
But it isn’t just the Arctic cod that’s at risk! Ice itself is a physical barrier that regulates the migration of several fish species between oceans. Without the sea ice, no thanks to its unprecedented loss, there’s an increased chance for fish to use the Arctic Ocean in migrating between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Scientists attribute the loss of sea ice to increasing human activity, including carbon dioxide emissions. In many ways, the world’s oceans have absorbed about 93% of the environmental heat generated by human activities. These large bodies of water have shielded humans from climate change and its worst effects.
Think about it: If the heat generated by human activities were absorbed by the atmosphere, Earth would likely be warmer by 36°C and not 1°C. Just imagine how much hotter our climate will be if the oceans weren’t there to absorb the heat!
But it seems like the oceans aren’t being as efficient, so to speak, in heat absorption as they once were. While temperatures in the world’s oceans have risen in the past decades, the most dramatic is in the Arctic. Since 1980, the air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have increased between 1°C and 2°C.
While it doesn’t seem much, it is! At these increases in temperature, scientists see more melting of the sea ice, even in the undersides of glaciers. With such changes in air and water temperatures in the Arctic Ocean and, as a consequence, in other parts of the world, there have been changes in fish migration patterns.
Take, for instance, mackerel. The small oily fish weren’t regular visitors to Greenland’s cold waters. They usually bred west of the British Isles before migrating to the northeast for their summer feeding. But in 2007, they showed in large numbers in Iceland’s Irminger Current, a change in direction on the ocean highway.
In just four years, they were already in the waters off Greenland. By 2014, Greenland’s mackerel fishery industry made up 23% of the country’s export revenues. Of course, the mackerel’s arrival changed the marine ecosystem in the Arctic Ocean.
The bottom line: The warmer temperatures in the oceans are changing the way many fish species are migrating for their spawning and feeding seasons. In turn, this will affect the food ecosystem in the Arctic.
Case in point: In a report made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), entire groups of marine species are moving toward the poles. Many of these marine species are also migrating northward faster than land animals, perhaps five times faster. These migrations will affect marine ecosystems, including Arctic fish, as they are both predator and prey.
Plankton Blooms Are On the Rise, Too
Yet another change that will affect Arctic fish is the plankton blooms brought on by the thinning ice. The soup of plankton on the surface has invited short-lived pelagic fish, such as sprat and herring, to the Arctic. The downside: The haddock and grouper aren’t as numerous as they were before because they can’t live on plankton.
The warmer temperatures mean the departure of some common Arctic fish species and the entry of other uncommon species. It alone will have an effect on the region’s marine ecosystem and, thus, on the livelihood and economy of humans on land and sea.
What then can you, a person who likes to eat fish, do? While the issue of climate change is a matter that should be tackled on the national and individual levels, you can start with aquaculture. You don’t even need an entire ocean to start aquaculture since even a small pond or a large tank is a good starter.
But be sure to read up on the basics of aquaculture first. Keep in mind that it’s a reasonably expensive endeavor. Hence, basic knowledge and skills are a must, even with a small pond. The rewards, fortunately, are aplenty – fish, fish, and more fish!
We recommend Aquaculture: Farming Aquatic Animals and Plants 3rd Edition edited by John S. Lucas, Paul C. Southgate, and Craig S. Tucker. The book contains comprehensive information about the principles and practices of aquaculture, from water conditions to fish food and troubleshooting.
If you’re planning on fishing for Arctic fish, you may want to read Fishing Northern Canada for Lake Trout, Grayling, and Arctic Char: A Fisherman’s Paradise in the Land of the Midnight Sun. You will find useful tips in fishing for lake trout, brook trout, and Arctic char, among others.
What happens in the Arctic Ocean doesn’t stay there! The changes occurring in the Arctic region due to climate change will eventually have an impact on the world. We should then start taking the right actions in fighting climate change at our level.