The environmentally-driven shift in distribution patterns will probably make it more difficult to find and catch Atlantic mackerel in certain areas in the future. The authors note that the Canadian coastal commercial fishery has continued to thrive while the U.S. commercial mackerel fishery during the winter has declined in recent decades. The change in distribution pattern could also impact other species, since mackerel plays a central role in the food web of the ecosystem. Atlantic mackerel are prey for a wide variety of species; they eat mostly small crustaceans and plankton.
"Atlantic mackerel is one of many species shifting their distribution range as a result of changing oceanographic and environmental patterns," said Hare. "Those patterns include regional temperature changes from year to year and larger scale environmental forces or climate drivers such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).
Recent studies have indicated a northward shift in distributions of a number of species in this region (Nye et al., 2009), and work by Hare and others in 2010 documents a shift in the distribution and increase in biomass of Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) associated with warming. This latest study on Atlantic mackerel by Hare and NOAA Fisheries co-authors William Overholtz (now retired) and Charles Keith of the NEFSC's Woods Hole Laboratory in Massachusetts indicates that the changes in distribution are related to both interannual variability in temperature and a general warming trend on the Northeast Atlantic continental Shelf.
Despite the current high abundance of the stock, the changes could make it harder for U.S. commercial vessels to locate large schools of mackerel during the winter, when the majority of landings occur, because the fish are dispersed over a larger area within their preferred temperature r
|Contact: Shelley Dawicki|
NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center