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Scientists link shifting Atlantic mackerel distribution to environmental factors, changing climate
Date:8/12/2011

NOAA scientists have found that environmental factors have changed the distribution patterns of Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), a marine species found in waters from Cape Hatteras to Newfoundland, shifting the stock northeastward and into shallower waters. Atlantic mackerel migrate great distances on a seasonal basis to feed and spawn, and are sensitive to changes in water temperature. These findings could have significant implications for U.S. commercial and recreational mackerel fisheries that mostly occur during late winter and early spring.

In a paper published online in the American Fisheries Society journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management and Ecosystem Science, researchers from NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) reviewed annual changes in the winter and early-spring distribution of the Atlantic mackerel stock on the northeast U.S. continental shelf using spatial and standard statistical analyses of data collected on research trawl surveys.

"Our findings suggest that both the commercial and recreational Atlantic mackerel fisheries in the United States will probably be faced with more variable resource conditions in the future in terms of the winter distribution of the stock," said study co-author Jon Hare of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC)'s laboratory in Narragansett, R.I. "The continental shelf is warming, increasing the area over which the stock can be distributed, while at the same time the distribution of the stock is shifting northward."

Between 1968 and 2008, the overwintering distribution of the Northwest Atlantic stock has shifted about 250 kilometers (roughly 155 miles) to the north and about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) to the east. The Atlantic mackerel population has also shifted from deeper off-shelf locations to shallower on-shelf areas where more area is now available within the mackerel's preferred temperature range. Atlantic mackerel pr
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Contact: Shelley Dawicki
Shelley.Dawicki@noaa.gov
508-495-2378
NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center
Source:Eurekalert

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