Climate change could alter the menu at your favorite seafood restaurant

Vancouver, British Columbia – Seafood lovers may soon be out of luck if they hope to order salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Warmer ocean temperatures due to climate change are altering the menu of many seafood restaurants, a new study finds.

In a review of local menus featuring locally caught fresh seafood between 1880 and 2021, a team from the University of British Columbia found that species like sockeye salmon were leaving Vancouver’s restaurant scene. In their place, diners will likely see more restaurants offering Humboldt squid, as local ocean life changes over time.

The researchers looked at the average preferred temperature of all species in the Vancouver area for four different time periods dating back to the 19th century. The results show that the highest preferred temperature for aquatic animals currently exists in the 2020s. Current seafood in the region swims at temperatures around 14 degrees Celsius; that’s three degrees warmer than in 1880 and nearly five degrees warmer than in 1962 – the coldest average temperature in the study.

“We set out to find out if warming waters due to climate change are already affecting what seafood restaurants serve on their menus,” says lead author Dr William Cheung, professor and director of the Institute of UBC Oceans and Fisheries, in a statement from the university. .

“Although not a case of cause and effect, our results indicate that the seas around Vancouver were warming during the periods studied, so that fish species that prefer warmer waters dominated there. . It is likely that they were more available to be caught for sale, and therefore local seafood restaurants offered more of these types of fish.

Vancouver Hotel dinner menu, 1888. (Source: City of Vancouver Archives, AM1519-PAM 1888-17)

Evening meal: calamari and sardines

The study authors found that two species are benefiting from warmer ocean temperatures, making it more likely you’ll see them on restaurant menus in years to come. One of them is the Humboldt squid, which scientists say is expanding its range further north as temperatures rise.

The other is the sardine. Although sardine catches have plummeted since the 1940s, researchers expect the species to make a comeback in the Pacific Northwest thanks to warming waters.

“Humboldt squid is not something we see on restaurant menus before the 1990s, but we see it much more common now, and sardine, which has historically disappeared from the seafood menu in sea, could come back in the future,” says Dr Cheung.

“We know that sockeye salmon is not doing well in British Columbia. This means that local sockeye salmon may be less available in the near future, and it is likely that local restaurants will choose other species of salmon or d ‘other species of fish.’

Specifically, the researchers found that the biggest changes to local seafood menus took place between 1981 and 1996.

“That’s when the biggest temperature changes happened, and it’s also when some of those changes really start to have bigger and more obvious effects on fish stocks.” , notes Dr. Cheung.

What is the cause of this change in the seafood menu?

Scientists explain that an extreme marine heat wave called “the Blob” could be responsible for accelerating the pace of menu changes in the Vancouver area. The team also cites abnormally warm weather in recent decades, which is causing changes in the distribution of exploited species in the region.

“Climate change is already affecting everyone, not just the fishermen who catch the fish, but the people who go to restaurants and eat the fish,” adds the study’s author. “We can expect to see less stable seafood availability if we consume local catches. Expect that we may not be able to get all the same seafood all year round, or all the time.

As for non-climatic factors, the team says changes in fishing activity and the growth of imported supplies over the years also influence what’s on local menus. The researchers attempted to account for these factors during the study, ultimately concluding that ocean temperatures are still the primary driver of the changing seafood situation.

“Given other evidence of how fish and fisheries are responding to climate change, the trend we detected is likely also related to changing oceans,” concludes Dr Cheung.

The study is published in the journal Environmental biology of fish.

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