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Animals Of The Sea Forced To Flee Their Homes Thanks To Humans

<p> <a class="checked-link" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/noaaphotolib/5029590857/sizes/m/">NOAA Photo Library/Flickr/CC BY 2.0</a><span></span> </p>

Humans are dramatically impacting where aquatic animals call home. Both the fishing industry off the northeastern coast of the United States and human-made climate change are forcing animals to relocate, a recent study reports.

Marine researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration trawled through surveys from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, looking at four species of north Atlantic fish: summer and winter flounder, black sea bass and scup. Taking stock of the fish populations from 1972 to 2008, the scientists found significant shifts in which areas of the sea the fish live, they recently reported in the Journal of Marine Science.

Models of warming seas and aquatic animal behavior indicate that fish populations around the equator will head north, shifting away from hotter bands around the Earth's middle. This report found varied movement - north for scup and black sea bass, likely thanks to increased temperatures, but a southward swim for summer flounder, in response to the fishing industry. "A combination of fishing and climate can influence the distribution of marine fish," said Richard Bell, a marine scientist with the National Research Council working out of Rhode Island, in a statement. "It is not one or the other."

A hungry (they're always hungry) flounder lies in wait. (NOAA's National Ocean Service/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Anthropogenic climate change is warming oceans faster than previously believed, an October 2014 study pointed out. It's also leading to more acidic water, which devastates coral and could hurt sharks' sense of smell. And the Northeast is no stranger, sadly, to overfishing. The number of Atlantic cod - who were once so abundant a sailor could walk along their backs without getting wet, the old sea yarn went - has fallen to about a twentieth of its historic size.

Based on the report, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center called for close examination of fishing regulations. If fish populations are relocating in such polarized directions, industry catch limits in certain states and areas may be mismatched, the study suggests.

This guide from ocean conservation group Oceana and the Monterey Bay Aquarium can help point you toward more sustainable seafood consumption in the Northeast.