It’s a matter of some heated debate as to whether climate change is affecting water temperatures, or if it’s a cyclical kind of thing. One thing is for sure, though — fish are reacting to it.

I’ve written how a predicted El Niño event is affecting fishing in my home waters off Southern California. Apparently, something similar is happening on the East Coast. Summer flounder, aka fluke, have moved further north. Instead of the bulk of the population being concentrated off the North Carolina coast, they are now up in the New York/New Jersey area.

The migration has created a major battle between North Carolina-based commercial fishermen and New York-based sports anglers. Find out what’s at stake in this interesting read from Climate Central.

fluke_passionfortheseaThe summer flounder – one of the most sought-after catches on the U.S. East Coast – is stirring up a climate change battle as it glides through the sand and grasses at the bottom of a warming North Atlantic.

Also known as “fluke,” the flat, toothy fish is remarkable for its ability to change color to adapt to its surroundings, rendering it almost invisible to predators and prey.

Some scientists say in recent years the species has begun adapting in another way. As the Atlantic Ocean has warmed, they say, the fish have headed north.

The center of summer flounder population, recorded as far south as Virginia around 1970, is now off the New Jersey coast. Its migration has set the stage for battle between northern and southern East Coast states on how to share the business of harvesting this tasty, lean fish – valued at $30 million per year commercially and untold millions more for the recreational fishing industry.

Battle lines have been drawn over a fish that has staged a remarkable comeback from a population crash linked to overfishing in the late 1980s. But fluke has returned to a dramatically changed environment in the sea and on land.

On one side are southern states, most importantly, North Carolina, with a commercial fishing fleet pummeled in recent years by competition from cheap foreign seafood imports. North Carolina today gets the biggest slice of the East Coast fluke fishery, based on its 1980s history as the leader in summer flounder landings. It is eager to hold onto its summer flounder quota, even if that now means the commercial fleet motors to New Jersey and back to find fish.

Photos: Ginny Sanderson (top); Passion for the Sea (above)