Responses in fisheries catch data to a warming ocean along a latitudinal gradient in the western Pacific Ocean

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Ocean warming has been affecting marine ecosystems over the past few decades. The signature of ocean warming in global fisheries catch data has been identified through a variety of methods, one of which is the mean temperature of the catch (MTC) index. The MTC is derived from the average temperature preference of fished species weighted by their contribution to annual catches. Here, we used MTC to explore the fisheries catch responses to warming, from 1950 to 2016, along a latitudinal gradient in the western Pacific Ocean, from 37° N, via 2.5° S in the central western Pacific, to 36° S. The tropicalization of catches in a given geographic space, i.e., the increased catch of species with affinity to warmer waters, as a result of increasing sea temperature and the associated poleward migration of species, rather than any large-scale oceanographic variability, was apparent through the increasing MTC at higher latitudes. In particular, MTC in temperate Japan increased by 0.33 °C per decade over the time series. The MTC in subtropical/temperate southeast Australia increased by 0.24 °C per decade over the full time period and by 1.24 °C per decade after 2002. The observed MTC increase was caused by the increasing dominance of thermophilous (preferring warmer waters) over psychrophilous (preferring cooler waters) taxa in the catches in these waters. On the other hand, the MTC in tropical Indonesian waters, as well as the ratio of thermophilous to psychrophilous taxa, showed a gentle yet consistent decrease of 0.05 °C per decade over the full time period. This finding supports the tropicalization hypothesis, given the limited scope for further tropicalization of catches in the already tropical ecosystem of Indonesia. Ocean warming has indeed been altering the distribution of marine organisms, particularly in temperate ecosystems as thermophilous taxa become more abundant, while psychrophilous taxa abundance decreases. Tropicalization impacts fisheries and catch composition and is, therefore, expected to cause conflicts among fishers and challenge fisheries management.

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Environmental Biology of Fishes