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Seafoods Carbon Footprint

Catching Wild Seafoods Consumes A Lot Of Diesel Fuel

fish and fisheries journal

Seafoods Carbon Footprint

Robert Parker, a young fisheries scientist at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, in Australia, and Peter Tyedmers, an ecological economist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, have published a fascinating report derived from the analysis the fuel burned by 1600 boats in fishing fleets from the seven seas. They toted up the fuel used to bring various types of fish and seafood to port, which they reported online this month in the Journal Fish and Fisheries.

Parker and Tyedmers didn’t add the additional energy required to process the catch and transport it to consumers which is a substantial addition. Here’s the rankings by average amount of fuel required to land a metric ton of different seafoods. From this we can derive each seafoods carbon footprint.

May we have the drum roll please.

Here’s our Top SEVEN fuel guzzling seafoods.

In 7th. Place. Sardines: 71 liters per tonne ~.2 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • Abundant but tiny forage fish like anchovies, sardines, and herring are frequently caught close to land, and if they are found at all they are usually in large schools making it quick work to purse them into an enormous net. Icelandic herring and Peruvian anchovies are the most fuel-efficient industrial fisheries with just 8 liters of fuel used per ton of fish.

In 6th. Place. Small Pelagics – Skipjack tuna and Mackerel: 434 liters per tonne ~ 1.1 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • Bigger than forage fish but smaller than big tuna the small pelagics  of the open sea are caught en masse in a net called a purse seine. But as these stocks dwindle on dying ocean pastures the vessels must travel farther to find the fish and remain at sea longer to fill the ship resulting in the big gas bill.

In 5th. Place. Scallops: 525 liters per tonne ~ 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • Bottom-dwelling mollusks are scooped up with heavy steel dredges that require powerful fuel hogging engines to drag across the sea bed.

In 4th. Place. North American Salmon: 886 liters per tonne ~ 2.3 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • Salmon are typically caught near shore with gill nets or purse seines. The highest grade salmon are caught on hook and line which takes more fuel.

In 3rd. Place. Large Pelagics – Pacific albacore: 1612 liters per tonne ~ 4.2 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  •  Trolling for these big fish takes more fuel than using the more typical giant tuna boats and seine nets. After dropping long lines with lures or baited hooks, vessels must race at speeds of about 6-7 miles per hour to keep up with the speedy tuna.

In 2nd. Place. Flatfish – Sole: 2827 liters per tonne ~ 7.4 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • To catch flatfish, a boat drags a heavy metal weighted trawl net across the sea floor. It’s a lot like scallop dredging but the fish can swim away from the net meaning many more trawls are needed to fill the quota.

And the champion blackest seafood…

In 1st. Place. Shrimp and lobster: 2923 liters per tonne ~ 7.6 tonnes of CO2 emitted

  • It takes 783 liters of fuel to tend to lobster traps that produce a ton of Maine lobsters, Asian tiger prawns from Australia required 7000 liters of fuel per ton in 2010, and Norway lobster from the North Sea has taken as much as 17,000 liters per tonne! To catch shrimp boats must pull a fine mesh net for very long distances to make a catch. Enough to try even the patience of Forrest Gump.

Wild seafood is pretty close in its fuel cost with most other kinds of domesticated animals? The median fuel use in landing wild seafoods is 639 liters per ton. This yields the seafoods carbon footprint of about 2 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted for each kilogram of seafood landed. Chicken and farmed salmon and trout are roughly the same.  Beef however is significantly higher at 10 kg of carbon dioxide per kg of beef, one has to add up all the fuel those danged cowboys burn roaring about in their pick-up trucks.

“If you’re looking at having a green diet, you want to transition away from beef,” Parker says.

cash in handToday government fishing industry subsidies provide up to 1/3rd. of the cost of fuel in many nations. Read our story about how these subsidies have been used to create Fishing Privateers who fly national flags out on the high seas in the last great sea battle for the last of the fish.

Today as wild seafood stocks became depleted, boats have to fish farther and farther away their home ports and spend much more time to fill the boat. Fuel use appears to have declined over the past decade as the size of fleets has rapidly been reduced leaving the last of the boats with a slight advantage in terms of finding sufficient prey to catch before they run low on fuel and have to sail home.

The research has led to the observation that the carbon footprint of wild seafood is but a tiny part of the carbon footprint of most Americans—probably less than a half a percent of the carbon output of driving, estimates Parker. OK I am not sure I can come to grips with substituting sardines on crackers for that lobster roll… but maybe I’ll have to.

We can’t help but observe that the carbon footprint of seafoods that these researchers have studied is in a world where the abundance of wild fish is a fraction of what it was a century ago. One solution to reducing the fuel needed and CO2 emitted in bringing wild seafood to our tables is to restore and revive the ocean pastures where those fish today are rapidly dying do to lack of plankton.

We know that we can restore and revive those ocean pastures rapidly, affordably, and sustainably and bring this back to historic levels of abundance.