NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — It may not be immediately noticeable, but climate change is affecting the Rhode Island fishing industry in a big way.
University of Rhode Island Oceanography Professor Jeremy Collie said the warming of New England water is forcing the lobster population to shift north.
“Lobster is a really good example of a northern species. They like temps around 60 degrees, which is cooler than the water is now,” Collie said.
The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) reports that the United States is 1.8 degrees warmer than it was a century ago, and the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans.
Collie, along with a team of researchers at URI, has been studying lobster migration patterns for years. He said they’ve seen a noticeable trend of lobsters moving away from the area – taking the once-booming business away from Rhode Island.
“Basically their habitat is shifting north,” Collie said. “The lobster abundance of Maine has increased a lot, but even in Maine, we see the lobsters are shifting.”
In a Fisheries of the US Report by NOAA, lobsters rank among the most valuable crustacean in the country, generating more than half-a-billion dollars in annual revenue.
Despite the loss of a large portion of the lobster population in Rhode Island, fisherman and President of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance Rich Fuka said it’s not all bad for business, it’s just different.
“Rhode Island leads the nation, if not the world, on its landings for squid, and that is why Rhode Island has an appetizer called calamari, because we are the largest producers on the eastern seaboard,” Fuka explained. “Those fish are greatly affected by water temperature in a good way because it gives them a chance to reproduce a lot more.”
Collie said the rising temperatures have provided an environment more favorable to southern species.
“Fisherman in Rhode Island are changing the species they catch, focusing on squid,” Collie said. “They’ve had to adapt their business to keep up with climate change.”
“We have a lot more cod and haddock that have moved down into New England,” Fuka added.
The fishing industry in Rhode Island has also had to adapt to unpredictable weather.
“It probably has been ongoing for the last 10 years,” Fuka said. “Slow increments of temperature changes, climate changes and weather patterns, more severe weather patterns. I know the fishermen are affected by that in the wintertime. Stronger storms mean higher waves.”
Collie said waters in Northern New England may also eventually become too warm for lobsters. He said in that case, the lobster population will continue to shift north, moving closer to Nova Scotia.