Fish in troubled waters

How is the fishing industry dealing with climate change?

Although climate change impacts many aspects of our lives it is hard to think of an industry that is more directly impacted than fishing. Climate change directly impacts sea levels and temperatures which are important factors to the overall marine population1, which already faces significant challenges from pollution and over fishing. With the rising demand for food and specifically protein due to population and income growth it’s important to think about how this massive industry is dealing with the coming changes.

I will focus on American Seafoods Group2, a leader in the global seafood industry, which harvests and processes Alaska pollock, yellowfin sole, Pacific cod and Pacific hake in the Alaskan and Pacific Northwest regions.

Company Actions

American Seafoods Group focuses on sustainable fishing through a preventive approach. The main strategy they implement is to monitor the fish populations and habitats in their regions of operations to ensure they are of an adequate size for them to continue their reproductive cycle despite their fishing operations. They do this by employing a variety of independent research organizations to measure and set biologically safe fishing levels, which they follow strictly. By setting fishing targets periodically based on the health of the eco system American Seafoods ensures that any impact climate change is having on the fish populations is considered. The second way in which American Seafoods ensures healthy fish populations are by minimizing the fishing of protected species and fish that will not be consumed in order to have the least impact possible on fish populations. The last step they take is to set specific areas that change periodically where the company does not fish to ensure they have time to recover from any impact fishing may have.

Additional Recommendations

Although these strategies are a good start, I believe American Seafoods is not targeting the root of the problem and they actions are only the beginning to developing a strategy to deal with global warming.

The first thing that American Seafood needs to focus on is reducing carbon emissions from their ships and operations through technology investments to actively reduce some of the elements that are driving global warming and negatively impacting fish population health.

Secondly, it’s important for American Seafoods to share best practices and their monitoring and fishing target setting capabilities with smaller fisheries who may not have the resources to monitor their impact on fish populations and their environment. Perhaps they should be lobbying for this to be industry practice and have fishing targets set by an overarching regulating body to ensure all fisheries are monitor their impact on fish populations.

Thirdly American Seafoods should partner with grocery stores and other fish distributors to educate consumers on the importance of environmentally conscious fishing practices. By making their practices known to consumers they will empower consumers to become informed and buy from fisheries that fish in an environmentally conscious manner and maintain healthy fish populations. They should also keep consumers informed of which fish species are at higher risk of population declines due to climate change and other factors. Doing so would enable consumers to eat fish with stronger population profiles, which hopefully gives those at risk room to adapt to changing conditions without being incrementally harmed from fishing practices.

Fourth, American Seafoods mostly focuses on being preventive by monitoring fish populations and ecosystems and not over fishing. It’s equally or more important to be proactive and help fish populations that may be depleting too quickly due to changing temperatures and sea levels. They could do this by breeding fish on land and re introducing them to these high-risk areas as necessary or actively taking measures that will rebuild or strengthen coral which should help fish populations.

In conclusion, although American Seafoods Group has a culture and systems in place to ensure sustainable fishing, which incorporates the impact from global warming into their fishing practices, their approach is too limited given the threat posed by global warming to their business. If sea temperatures and levels continue to increase and pose threat to fish populations, American Seafoods Group will be forced to decrease their fishing activities and therefore will be forced to reduce the size of their business. More importantly the millions of people that depend on their fish for food will have to turn to other, potentially less environmentally sources of protein such as beef, which has a significant negative impact on the environment and will continue to the advance of global warming3.


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1 Fact Sheet: Effects of Climate Change on Arctic Fish” World Wildlife Fund, accessed November 2016.

2 American Seafoods Company, “About Us / Sustainability,””, accessed November 2016.

3 Steinfeld Henning, Gerber Pierre, “Livestocks’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options”, FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS (Nov 2006), accessed November 2016.


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Student comments on Fish in troubled waters

  1. Interesting post about unique industry!
    I agree to your opinion that American Seafoods Group’s approach is too limited given the threat posed by climate change to their business. However, it looks like this is tough situation for the company because their contribution to the climate change is limited. It would be good if they try to reduce carbon emission from their ships, but I think the volume is too small. Therefore, no matter how hard they try, the fishes will be gone anyway if the temperature rose for other reasons. I think much easier solution would be catching fish in other regions, where the average temperature is lower than their current fishing area, such as northern part of pacific ocean or the arctic ocean.

  2. Great post about an industry that is near and dear to my heart. I agree with CP’s comment above that American Seafoods Group (“ASG”) is just too small to have any meaningful impact on its own. The Tragedy of the Commons is at work here, and it will continue without the influence of a strong-handed regulator. As a result, ASG can’t bet its business on the cooperation of other seafood companies or the education of end consumers. ASG must take a step forward in its own processes to totally end reliance on the climate and even the ocean. How? Novel aquaculture techniques that take fish production from large, unmanageable bodies of water to isolated, manageable ponds or large indoor tanks. Until that happens, I fear that ASG’s business will always be in danger.

    1. I agree and love the highlighted phrase – Tragedy of the Commons is perfectly exemplified here. Aquaculture would most certainly eliminate ASG’s dependence on our shared global resources, but may also be a controversial way to go. My guess is that U.S. consumers would be perfectly happy with aquaculture fish, but I know other cultures do place significant value on wild-caught fish, placing additional pressure on global fish shoals. Also, heavy aquaculture is known to lead to nitrate buildup and algal blooms due to concentrated fish culture in one area. I’m sure there are ways however to mediate the problem, such as moving shoals regularly. I’m curious to hear whether or not you think aquaculture can contribute to replenishing global fish stocks? I think conservation efforts should consider large-scale breed-and-release given the detrimental population decreases we’ve already seen. That being said, I also acknowledge there are concerns about polluting the gene pool or intervening in natural evolution.

  3. American Seafood Group, as a power player in the industry, should lobby to develop and Organic/Fair Trade like stamp or classification system that will certify the type of fish and its origin in a reliable way. Mislabeling of seafood is a significant problem in the Unites States ( So, not only is it difficult for consumers to figure out what kinds of fish are best to eat from a sustainability perspective, even when armed with that information it is difficult to then make sure only to eat those kinds of fish. Conscious consumers might pay a premium for certified (by type and origin) fish.

  4. Really interesting post! Most often when I think of climate change, my mind jumps to obvious organizations like oil companies, but I appreciate you highlighting such a fundamental issue here. Echoing the comments above me, I do worry that ASG is fighting a losing battle here. Reducing emissions won’t put a dent in their problem, but I also fear the suggestion that many comments made regarding aquaculture may be problematic. In cities where climate change is a hot button issue, like Los Angeles, so are the fads to eat “natural” foods. Many individuals refuse to order fish until they have confirmed that it is “wild.” I wonder what your thoughts are on how to change this perception of the group that champions climate change to begin with.

  5. Very interesting post about the direct impact of climate change on fishing. Many potential solutions are recommended in the article, and I think they all make sense. Among them, what I think is the most important is the second proposal in the article, which recommend American Seafoods should share best practices with its competitors and have fishing targets set by an overarching regulating body. Obviously, fisheries operate in the same sea and share some fishing areas. Therefore, there is always an incentive for a fishery to avoid the cost of monitoring fish population and maximizing its short-term revenue. Avoiding such a “free-lunch” behavior of a competitor would be the key success driver for American Seafoods.

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