Red Lobster is already feeling the heat (literally). Oceans are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change . As the Earth’s atmosphere becomes more polluted with carbon dioxide, they also absorb more of this gas, making the water more acidic. This decrease in pH makes it more difficult for crustaceans, such as lobsters and crabs, to build exoskeletons to protect themselves .
But it’s not just the lobsters that are suffering. Some fish species are also less resilient to climate change . Changes in sea temperature impact the metabolism, reproduction, predator/prey balances and susceptibility to toxins of many aquatic species . These changes have tangible impacts on the filet that reaches your plate, as fish size may decrease by up to 30 percent . Exhibit 1 shows how increasing acidity interacts with higher temperatures and changing currents to change the distribution, number, quality and size of fish species.
Exhibit 1: Wind, currents, and acidity caused by climate change cause shifts in the geographic distribution of fish populations (University of New Hampshire, Source 6)
Red Lobster cannot put off addressing this problem. As early as 2008 the fishing industry began to feel the impact of global warming . Many of the most vulnerable species are the most popular for consumption such as pink salmon, Pacific bonito and spotted grouper . Decreasing populations of these fish and crustaceans, combined with a reduction in their size, makes them more expensive for organizations such as Red Lobster to source. This puts Red Lobster in a particularly difficult position because an integral part of its customer promise is maintaining low, consistent prices.
The company has already been taking some measures to ensure that their business remains scale-able.
- Transition to farmed fish. Darden, Red Lobster’s parent company until 2014, developed a lobster aquafarm to decrease the restaurant’s dependence on wild lobsters . The aquafarm reduced Red Lobster’s exposure to risk inherent in the changing physical size, population size, and migratory patterns in crustaceans caused by climate change.
- Seafood with Standards. Red Lobster launched this program to ensure that they are not sourcing endangered or overfished seafood . Sustainable sourcing helps maintain a critical mass in the population size of these species to ensure that they do not go extinct. Not only does this help vulnerable aquatic populations, but it also is an investment in the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry and in popularly consumed species.
Exhibit 2: From Red Lobster’s Website
But they can be doing more to ensure that they don’t flounder.
Because of its scale, Red Lobster is uniquely positioned to ensure that their fish suppliers are doing all that they can to make the fishing industry sustainable in spite of increasing pressure from climate change. There are a number of initiatives that Red Lobster can pursue.
- Put pressure on suppliers. While Red Lobster itself may only source ‘seafood with standards’, this doesn’t mean that their suppliers are. Because of Red Lobster’s scale, they have significant negotiating power to demand that their suppliers are not fishing endangered populations and are adhering to quotas. Studies show this is this most effective way to manage inevitably decreasing populations . Preventing overfishing in the industry as a whole benefits Red Lobster by preserving the populations of fish that they may one day want to source .
- Sharing information about species locations (don’t be shellfish!). Fish are changing their migratory patterns . Red Lobster should encourage its wild-caught fish suppliers to share information about species locations with national organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This enables species preservation organizations (like the NOAA) to create a consolidated database of where fish are moving. This is both beneficial to the fisheries and the marine biologists who are studying the species.
- Change consumer behavior. Because of its size and established reputation, Red Lobster is uniquely positioned to introduce consumers to new fish species. As such, they should more heavily emphasize species that are climate-resistant .
Just Keep Swimming
Moving forward, it seems like Red Lobster will likely grow their reliance on farmed fish. But if the restaurant industry as a whole makes this shift, will this reduce the attention paid to the wild-caught industry, resulting in less investment into sustaining these fledgling species? As fish and crustacean populations begin to dwindle, how feasible is a business model that relies on delivering seafood at a low cost?
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 Loki, Reynard. “Now You Seafood, Now You Don’t: 10 Foods Climate Change Could Soon Eradicate.” Salon, Alternet, 31 Dec. 2015, www.salon.com/2015/12/31/now_you_seafood_now _you_dont_10_foods_climate_change_could_soon_eradicate_partner/.
 University of British Columbia. “Some marine species more vulnerable to climate change than others.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/ 2017/09/170926125137.htm>.
 Garisto Pfaff, Leslie. “Warming Waters, Looming Crisis.” New Jersey Monthly, 10 Aug. 2017.
 Cimons, Marlene. “Fish Might Be Shrinking.” Popular Science, 28 Aug. 2017, www.popsci.com/fish-shrinking-climate-change.
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 Miranda C. Jones, William W. L. Cheung. Using fuzzy logic to determine the vulnerability of marine species to climate change. Global Change Biology, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13869
 “Darden Aquafarm, World’s First Commercial Lobster Farm, To Grow Billions Worth Of Shellfish.” The Huffington Post, 9 Apr. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/darden-aquafarm_n_1412352.html.
 “Seafood with Standards.” Red Lobster, www.redlobster.com/our-story/seafood-with-standards.
 “A Rising Tide.” The Economist, 18 Sept. 2008, www.economist.com/node/ 12253181?source=hptextfeature&story_id=12253181.
 Brander, K. M. “Global Fish Production and Climate Change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 50, June 2007, pp. 19709–19714., doi:10.1073/pnas.0702059104.
 United States, Congress, Graziano da Silva, Jose. “FAO Strategy on Climate Change.” FAO Strategy on Climate Change, Rome, 2017.