Warming waters bring unwanted visitors to North Sea

Warming waters bring unwanted visitors to North Sea

Willy Versluys from Ostend has been working for 30 years as a ship-owner. He has a fleet of boats that fish from the North Sea to the Gulf of Biscay, the East coast of Ireland and the Southern border of Norway. Willy and his fishermen are experiencing the results of warming oceans.

‘My fishermen have a good overview of the goings on in a large part of the North Sea,’ says Willy. ‘In the fishing nets and in the fish market we see the change with our own eyes.’

Between 1950 and 2000 the average temperature of the North Sea has rose up to 1°C. As this trend continues the variety of species that survive in these waters is changing.

‘We are seeing many species of warm water fishes extending their natural habitat from the Atlantic Ocean to the south into the North Sea,’ says Willy.‘The fishermen are now catching species which they never or very rarely caught ten years ago.’

Examples of fish species being caught more often by Willy’s fleet include various species of cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish), bass, lesser weever, anchovy,mackerel and carangids.

Marine biologists have observed a shift in the distribution of these fish species and a significant rise in the population of the Japanese oyster and jellyfish in the North Sea – which can make fishing more difficult.

‘The problem with jellyfish is that they get entangled in the nets and this can cause an enormous hindrance to coastal fishing, even making it unsafe,’ Willy explains.

‘The Japanese oysters are a real plague,’ he says. ‘At first, it was thought that this species would not be able to breed here because the temperature was too low for the development of the larva.’ But this is certainly not the case anymore.

‘I hear from the captains of the harbour services that their population is growing continuously in the harbours. They even lodge themselves between the sluice gates, as a result of which these can no longer be closed properly.’

Willy is also concerned about the impact of climate change on the productivity and safety of his crew. Climate models predict more extreme wind speeds, surges, and stormsin this coastal region.

‘The rise in the number of storms could increasingly interfere with coastal fishing, such as the shrimp catch in autumn,’ he explains.‘Fishermen can now go out to sea for about 150 days a year. If there are more storms, they will have to either remain on land or take more risks.’

Speaking on behalf of the fisheries sector Willy calls for, ‘everyone to accept their responsibility in drastically reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.’He says the fishing industry is ready and willing to take an active role in tackling climate change.

Source: WWF Full account and scientific review can be found here

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