Cold Winter Depleted Some Coastal Fish Populations

Please click below to listen to Dr. Roffer’s interview which aired on NPR last week.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:  If you were planning to do a little recreational fishing on the coast this year and found yourself disappointed, this might not come as a surprise to you. The cold snap this past winter depleted some fish populations. Mitchell Roffer is on the line with us now. He is the principal investigator on a NASA research project about fisheries and climate change. He’s based in West Melbourne, Florida. Mr. Roffer, thank you for joining us.


WERTHEIMER: Now I understand that this is something you’ve been looking at over a period of years, and you’re the final stages of your research. Can you talk to us about what you’re finding about vulnerabilities of the fish and to climate change?

ROFFER: Sure. Let me back step and say that all fish have their preferences in terms of habitat. So fish like a certain temperature or watercolor or a salinity. And they’ve adapted to swim in there and operate optimally over thousands of years. And if the location of this varies, then the fish will go with this lens of water known as their habitat. And if you’re a fisherman that are used to a certain area where the habitat is located, then if this habitat moves, then either you have to move with the fish or the fish that you’re looking for will not be there.

WERTHEIMER: So you’re not telling us that this is killing fish, it just means that fish have gone somewhere else.

ROFFER: That’s correct. Under severe cold events like we had in Florida in 2010 and 2011, fish were actually – were killed because the temperature went below their lethal limits. However, in this past year in the winter in the Gulf of Mexico, the temperatures were a lot cooler. And we feel that the fish were migrating to other areas, let’s say, offshore of the Gulf of Mexico or perhaps the Caribbean.

WERTHEIMER: Now you run a fish forecasting business in Florida. I wonder how that – how does that work? Have you been able to tell fishermen in Florida don’t go here, go there? I mean, have you been able to sort of mitigate some of the difficulties they’re having?

ROFFER: That’s exactly what we do. We use NASA and NOAA satellite data to look for the specific habitats that certain fish have in terms of the water temperature and color. So for argument’s sake, if a particular species like sailfish like a temperature off of Palm Beach, and that temperature and color is not off of Palm Beach but it’s further north off of Cape Canaveral, then we direct the fishermen to fish off Cape Canaveral and vice versa. If the habitat normally is Canaveral but further south, then we would direct fishermen further south.

WERTHEIMER: So you do not have to look for fish, you just look for the conditions the fish like, and you can see that from the satellite?

ROFFER: That’s correct. The fish actually make us look good because they follow those patterns pretty constantly.

WERTHEIMER: Mitchell Roffer runs a fishing forecasting service in West Melbourne, Florida. Mr. Roffer, thank you for being with us.

ROFFER: My pleasure. Thank you.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR. Please click HERE to listen to the interview.

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