In September 2013 Norwegian and Scottish scientists recorded Atlantic mackerel in Isfjorden in Svalbard for the first time. This is the northernmost record of this popular fish species and suggests a northward expansion of its distribution range.
Dr Finlo Cottier, Head of the Physics and Technology Department at Oban’s Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), and co-author of the study, explains: "We think that Atlantic mackerel has expanded its summer distribution into the High Arctic because of the dramatic change in water temperatures we have been measuring over the past decade. The temperature of the water in the Arctic has been increasing in both summer and winter, reducing the summer sea ice around Svalbard and so opening up new feeding grounds for mackerel and other fish species."
Mackerel is not the only fish species that has expanded its range to now include Svalbard.
The study, led by Professor Jorgen Berge of UiT The Arctic University of Norway, is published this week in the journal Arctic and coincides with the release of the House of Lords report Responding to a Changing Arctic.
The House of Lords report highlights how easier access to a less ice-covered Arctic may provide new commercialization opportunities for fisheries but calls for a moratorium on fishing until a management regime is agreed.
During spring Atlantic mackerel spawn in the North Sea and to the west of Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal. From there they migrate northwards to feed in the Norwegian Sea before returning to their spawning areas in winter.
The House of Lords report was informed by UK scientists including SAMS’ Dr Ray Leakey and identifies a continued knowledge gap regarding the Arctic ecosystem. Dr Leakey summarized: "The current knowledge gap limits our ability to manage the Arctic ecosystem sustainably. We thus welcome the report’s recommendation for a substantial and coordinated long-term programme of Arctic research to ensure we have the data to make the best possible choices."