In the waters

The waters of the Arctic teem with life - the largest halibut ever landed was caught in June 2009 weighing at 203kg!

The Arctic marine ecosystem

Top predators: polar bears and humans
Fish eaters: seals, walruses, whales
Larger fish: mature Arctic cod, Greenland halibut, Arctic char (a relative of the salmon)
Smaller fish: young Arctic cod and other young fish eat the plankton. Small fish like caplin and sand lance are critical in the Arctic food web
Zooplankton: eat the phytoplankton
Phytoplankton: graze on the algae
Algae: blooms (grows) on the underside of ice. Open water lets sunshine in to fuel this growth

Areas of open water occur at almost any time of the year. Some occur at the same time each year and are critical to migrating animals, birds and marine mammals. Any changes in the patterns due to climate change could cause disastrous effects.

Fish drying on an Arctic beach
Fish drying on an Arctic beach


Indigenous people fish through holes in the ice in the winter and tourists visit to experience this form of fishing.

In summer a rod and line from a boat is used and the fish are hung up to dry to preserve them.

Currently there are no large scale fishing operations in the North American Arctic waters. Most of the commercial fishing takes place just outside Arctic waters but it does fish Arctic species that have migrated south.

Ice fishing in tents
Ice fishing in tents at night
Ice fishing
Ice fishing
Ice fishing in Finland city
Ice fishing in the city, in Finland

As the ice melts there are fears that there will be an increase in commercial fishing and the North American governments are drawing up plans to ensure sustainable commercial fishing. One of the difficulties in developing this strategy is that there is little reliable information about the state of fish and shellfish stocks in the Arctic, they seem to be very variable.

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council has recommended that there should be no commercial fishing in the Arctic until the ecosystem is better understood.

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Aaju talks about climate change and ice fishing

Commercial Fishing

Large industrial trawler, Nuuk, Greenland
Large industrial trawler, Nuuk, Greenland

Commercial fishing is important in all areas of the seasonally ice free Arctic eg Barents Sea, Greenland, Alaska and up to the Diomede Islands.

The marine ecosystem

  • How might less sea ice affect the Arctic marine ecosystem and its exploitation? Use information from the climate change section and the links below to help you.

Find out more