Scientists with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said the record-high sea surface temperatures of 57.2 degrees F in 2012 are the latest in a trend of above average temperature recorded during the spring and summer seasons.
The readings are part of a pattern of elevated temperatures occurring in the Northwest Atlantic but not seen elsewhere in the ocean basin over the past century, researchers at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center said.
The warm temperatures have affected distributions of fish and resulted in shifts in the center of the population of seven key fishery species over time, they said.
"Many factors are involved in these shifts, including temperature, population size, and the distributions of both prey and predators," oceanographer Jon Hare said.
The abundance of fish and shellfish is controlled by a complex set of factors, and increasing temperatures in the ecosystem make it essential to monitor the distribution of many species, the researchers said.
"What these latest findings mean for the Northeast Shelf ecosystem and its marine life is unknown," researcher Michael Fogarty said. "What is known is that the ecosystem is changing, and we need to continue monitoring and adapting to these changes."