It is the meal most associated with the UK, along with slurping tea and moaning about the weather. But the great British fish supper could be on the way out, replaced by more continental variations such as squid and chips, as seas continue to warm, the British Ecological Society will be told this week.
Britons may have to adopt a more continental diet when it comes to fish, as climate change sees cold-water fish such as cod gradually replaced by squid and other warm-water species, according to research led by Dr John Pinnegar of Cefas, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.
“Our models for 2025 and beyond suggest that seawater temperature may continue to rise in the future,” said Pinnegar. “As a result, UK waters will become more hospitable for some species and less suitable for others, with the overall result that most commercial species will move northwards.”
Squid numbers have increased dramatically over the past 35 years in the North Sea, according to Cefas, which has monitored North Sea fish populations for the past 114 years. It said squid was found at 60% of its 76 survey stations in 2016, compared with just 20% in 1984.
The organisation analyses records of where fish are caught and water temperature, to monitor the impact of climate change and fishing intensity to long-term changes in abundance.
Cod numbers have been slow to recover after overfishing drastically reduced their numbers, according to Cefas. While there was 1.3m tonnes of cod in the North Sea in 1971, numbers fell to 124,000 tonnes in 2004. Following the imposition of fish stock quotas, that increased to 295,000 tonnes in 2016, but scientists believe cod reproduction has been hampered by warming waters.
The UK became a net importer of fish in 1984, a year after the Common Fisheries Policy and its quotas were introduced. Two-thirds of British catch – including scallops and langoustines – are exported, while British consumers remain loyal to varieties of traditional fish no longer caught by Britons, such as cod.
“UK consumers enjoy eating quite a limited range of seafood, but in the long term we will need to adapt our diets,” said Pinnegar. “In 2025 and beyond, we may need to replace cod and other old favourites with warm-water species such as squid, mackerel, sardine and red mullet.”
Pinnegar, who will present his results at the British Ecological Society annual meeting at ACC, Liverpool, on Monday, said small-scale fisheries targeting warm-water species such as squid, sardine and anchovy would be likely to overtake fisheries catching more traditional species such as haddock and cod.
The Scottish Fisherman’s Federation recently argued that Brexit could help the UK’s fishing industry to become a world-leading seafood exporter like Norway, the world’s leading producer of salmon and the second largest seafood exporter.
Bertie Armstrong, its chief executive, said the referendum result would enable Britain to regain control of its waters after decades of “common grazing” rights given to European neighbours.