Potential climate change impacts on Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) off the northeastern USA
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We examined the potential impacts of future climate change on the distribution and production of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) on the northeastern USA’s continental shelf. We began by examining the response of cod to bottom water temperature changes observed over the past four decades using fishery-independent resource survey data. After accounting for the overall decline in cod during this period, we show that the probability of catching cod at specified locations decreased markedly with increasing bottom temperature. Our analysis of future changes in water temperature was based on output from three coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation models under high and low CO2 emissions. An increase of <1.5°C is predicted for all sectors under the low emission scenario in spring and autumn by the end of this century. Under the high emission scenario, temperature increases range from ∼2°C in the north to >3.5°C in the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Under these conditions, cod appear vulnerable to a loss of thermal habitat on Georges Bank, with a substantial loss of thermal habitat farther south. We also examined temperature effects on cod recruitment and growth in one stock area, the Gulf of Maine, to explore potential implications for yield and resilience to fishing. Cod survival during the early life stages declined with increasing water temperatures, offsetting potential increases in growth with warmer temperatures and resulting in a predicted loss in yield and increased vulnerability to high fishing mortality rates. Substantial differential impacts under the low versus high emission scenarios are evident for cod off the northeastern USA.