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UBC study reveals how global warming has changed restaurant seafood menus

Diners may see more Humboldt squid but less sockeye salmon on restaurant menus in the near future due to climate change.

Ju Xiang Yuan Restaurant, Ottawa, Canada - BBQ Squid Skewers in August 2011. Credit - John Thompson from Iqaluit. CC SA 2.0.
Ju Xiang Yuan Restaurant, Ottawa, Canada - BBQ Squid Skewers in August 2011. Credit - John Thompson from Iqaluit. CC SA 2.0.

Seafood lovers may see more Humboldt squid but less sockeye salmon on restaurant menus in the near future due to climate change.

Researchers with the University of British Columbia published a study in Environmental Biology of Fishes that reveals how climate change has affected local restaurant seafood menus.

In the study, according to CTV News Canada, the researchers examined 362 Vancouver restaurant menus from four time periods, spanning 1880 to 2021. The study suggests warming water temperatures are already impacting what seafood restaurants serve.

“We set out to discover if warming waters due to climate change are already affecting what seafood restaurants serve in their menus,” said senior author Dr. William Cheung, professor, and director of the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Restaurants usually rely on the supply of locally caught species, and thus the impacts of changing catches on the food they serve, and consequently on their diners, may be reflected in their menus. 

Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas) swarm around Tiburon, possibly attracted to its lights. Source – NOAA/MBARI 2006, Public Domain

So, analyzing the menus over the four different time periods; (1880–1960, 1961–1980, 1981–1996, and 2019–2021), the researchers identified locally caught species on these menus and determined each species’ preferred water temperature based on previous studies, according to Phys.org.

After taking an average preferred temperature across all species identified for each of the four time periods, the research team found that the highest preferred temperature occurred in the present-day at nearly 14 degrees Celsius,

This temperature was three degrees higher than it was in 1880, and nearly five degrees higher than the lowest temperature calculated in 1962.

“While it’s not a case of cause and effect, our findings indicate that the seas around Vancouver were warming during the studied time periods, so fish species that prefer warmer waters dominated there. It’s likely that they were more available to catch for sale, and so local seafood restaurants offered more of these types of fish,” said Dr. Cheung.

Sockeye salmon. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Two species, in particular, stood out: Humboldt squid, which have been expanding their territory further north as water temperatures rise, and sardines.

“Humboldt squid is not something that we see in restaurant menus at all before the 1990s but we see it is much more common now, and sardines, which have historically disappeared in seafood menus, may return in the future,” Cheung said.

The study also shows that sockeye salmon aren’t doing so well in B.C., which means the species will be less available in the near future. The most dramatic changes in menus were seen from 2019 to 2021.

“That’s when lots of the bigger changes in temperature occurred, and that’s also the time when some of those changes are really starting to have bigger and more obvious effects on the fish stocks,” Cheung explained.

“Climate change is already affecting everyone, not only the fishermen who are catching the fish, but the people who go to restaurants and eat fish.” 

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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