Fact/Fiction: Is fish and chips under threat because of climate change?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we ask if the environmental crisis facing humanity means the end for the Friday night favourite

How it was told

While Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary centred all of our thoughts on the sustainability of our oceans and the future of the earth, fish and chips has remained one of the UK’s most popular dishes.

But if you’re hooked on the Friday-night staple, a widely reported story on June 16 will have left you reeling – it looks like the future won’t be going swimmingly for fish and chips.

Reports suggested that the fast food favourite could be off the menu, with the most popular fish used in the dish – cod and haddock – falling to climate change in the next 30 years.

So let the doom-mongering headlines commence. The Sun opted for “FISH HAS ITS CHIPS Fish and chips could be off the menu by 2050 due to global warming, study warns”.

As for Mirror Online, they went for “Fish and chips off the menu ‘unless global warming is stopped’, scientists warn” while Mail Online homed in on cod and haddock with “Fish and chips could be off the menu as global warming threatens to wipe out cod and haddock stocks, study warns”.

The Independent, the BBC and Metro both kept their headlines straightforward while the Daily Star reported that “Fish and chips doomed as oxygen levels in sea plunge, scientists warn”.

Finally, the Daily Record chose to keep it sensational and Scotland-centric with “Fish and chips could be off menu FOR GOOD in Scotland due to global warming”.

But is there any truth in it or is something fishy about the reports?

Facts. Checked

A few news outlets may want to row back from this story.

All of the articles are based on a study carried out by University of Plymouth professor of marine zoology John Spicer and his colleague, British Antarctic Survey ecophysiologist Dr Simon Morley, that was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B journal.

Their study assessed how declining oxygen levels as a result of climate change had an impact on the body size of marine invertebrates in the Antarctic.

The pair found a significant impact on the different-sized amphipod species when the oxygen in the water they were in was reduced.

And with oxygen in our oceans decreasing by between two and five per cent over the last few years, their results supported the theory that larger species may well be more vulnerable too.

However, this is with the caveat that past evolutionary innovation may offset the effects.

You may notice the distinct lack of any mention of cod and haddock there.

Funnily enough, so did the University of Plymouth and Prof Spicer, who has spent more than 30 years studying the impact of climate change on marine organisms.

The uni’s account tweeted, following the flurry of news stories, that: “This research examined the effect of decreasing oxygen levels on the body size of marine invertebrates and, contrary to some media reports, is in no way connected to species such as cod and haddock.”

And Prof Spicer added that although cod and haddock may well be under threat, it is not climate change that is having the biggest impact on them.

“Reduced oxygen may well decrease the body size of fish over evolutionary time, but current reductions in the body size of these commercial fish are most likely related to overfishing. However, that was not covered in this particular study,” he said.

So while this is an important study in our battle to save the oceans – Dr Morley notes it could “teach us much about the mechanisms that will determine the survival of species across the world’s oceans” – it certainly isn’t determining what you’ll get from the chippy in 2050 just yet.

Image: Miles Cole