Northward movement of marine species

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: CLIM 015
Created 11 Jul 2008 Published 08 Sep 2008 Last modified 04 Sep 2015
Note: new version is available!
Recordings of two tropical fish 1963-1996 Northward movement of zooplankton between 1958-2005 Relative abundance of Warm-water to cold-water flatfish species

Update planned for November 2012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

Many species of plankton and fish have shifted their distribution northward and sub-tropical species are occurring with increasing frequency in European waters, changing the composition of local and regional marine ecosystems in a major way (Brander et al., 2003; Beare et al., 2004; Beare et al., 2005; Perry et al., 2005; Stebbing et al., 2002). Recent studies have shown that the northward movement of southerly species has caused species richness in the North Sea to increase (Hiddink and Hofstede, 2008). This may have negative ecological and socio-economic effects: the three large species that have decreased their range the most in the North Sea are all commercially relevant, while only one of the five most increasing species and less than half of the all the species that expanded their range are of commercial value. A climate change-induced shift from large to smaller species is thus likely to reduce the value of North Sea fisheries (Hiddink and Hofstede, 2008).
The kinds of fish which are available for human consumption are not necessarily affected by the distribution changes shown above, because fish are often transported long distances from where they are caught to where they are marketed, but the prices of fish may change if certain species that are common today become less common. People eating locally-caught fish may notice changes in the species they catch or buy. Changes in distribution may affect the management of fisheries. Fisheries regulations in the EU include allocations of quotas based on historic catch patterns, and these may need to be revised.
In a few situations, e.g. early retreat of sea ice in Arctic areas, the effect of climate change may be to increase fish catches (ACIA, 2004), but in general it is not possible to predict whether northward shifts in distribution will have a positive or a negative effect on total fisheries production (Brander, 2007).

Scientific references

  • References ACIA, 2004. Impacts of a warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Beare, D. J.; Burns, F.; Greig, A.; Jones, E. G.; Peach, K.; Kienzle, M.; McKenzie, E. and Reid, D. G., 2004. Long-term increases in prevalence of North Sea fishes having southern biogeographic affinities. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 284: 269-278. Beare, D.; Burns, F.; Jones, E.; Peach, K. and Reid, D., 2005. Red mullet migration into the northern North Sea during late winter. Journal of Sea Research, 53: 205-212. Beaugrand, G.; Reid, P. C.; Ibañez, F.; Lindley, J. A. and Edwards, M., 2002. Reorganization of North Atlantic marine copepod biodiversity and climate. Science 296: 1692-1694. Beugrand, G.; Brandner, K. M.; Lindley, J. A.; Souissi, S.; Reid, P. C., 2003. Plankton effect on cod recruitment in the North Sea. Nature 426: 661-664. Brander, K. M., 2007. Global Fish Production and Climate Change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 104, no 50: 19709-19714. Brander, K. M.; Blom, G.; Borges, M. F.; Erzini, K.; Henderson, G.; MacKenzie, B. R.; Mendes, H.; Ribeiro, J.; Santos, A. M. P. and Toresen, R., 2003. Changes in fish distribution in the eastern North Atlantic: Are we seeing a coherent response to changing temperature? ICES Marine Science Symposia 219: 261-270. Hiddink, J. G. and Ter Hofstede, R., 2008. Climate Change induced increases in species richness of marine fishes. Global Change Biology 14: 453-460. MacKenzie, B. R., Gislason, H., Möllmann, C., and Köster, F. W. 2007. Impact of 21st century climate change on the Baltic Sea fish community and fisheries. Global Change Biology, 13: 1-20. Perry, A. L.; Low, P. J.; Ellis, J. R. and Reynolds, J. D., 2005. Climate Change and Distribution Shifts in Marine Fishes. Science 308: 1912-1915. Quero, J.-C.; Du Buit, M.-H. and Vayne, J.-J., 1998. Les observations de poissons tropicaux et le rechauffement des eaux dans l'Atlantique européen. Oceanologica Acta 21: 345-351. Stebbing, A. R. D.; Turk, S. M. T.; Wheeler, A. and Clarke, K. R., 2002. Immigration of southern fish species to the southwest of England linked to warming of the North Atlantic (1960-2001). Journal of the Marine Biological Association 82: 177-180. UK. Stouffer R. J., 2004. Time scales of climate response. Journal of Climate 17: 209-217. Teal L.R.; de Leeuw J.J.; van der Veer H.W. et al., 2008. Effects of climate change on growth of 0-group sole and plaice. Marine Ecology-progress Series, Volume 358: 219-230.

Indicator definition

  • Recordings of two tropical fish 1963-1996
  • Northward movement of zooplankton between 1958-2005
  • Relative abundance of Warm-water to cold-water flatfish species


Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see:


No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

Key policy question



Methodology for indicator calculation

Methodology for gap filling

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Methodology uncertainty

Data sets uncertainty

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Trine Christiansen


Joint Research Centre (JRC)
European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CLIM 015
Version id: 1


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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