How the seafood industry can deliver climate change mitigation
Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global climate change. Continued emissions levels by maintaining ‘business as usual’ will intensify climate change increasing risks of serious, irreversible impacts to life on the planet.
While all food production has some environmental impact, seafood is a relatively low emissions protein, making it a climate smart and nutritious food choice for all.
Seafood is a low emissions protein
Protein related emissions vary; plant-based foods can be low, whereas some reared animal-based proteins have the highest emissions. Seafood emissions vary depending on the species but can be exceptionally low.
The diversity in seafood choice means the carbon footprint for some species is amongst the lowest for all proteins. The emissions for a portion of whitefish or farmed salmon are modest and comparable to a portion of chicken. The emissions for other seafood species are comparable to plant-based proteins: small pelagic fish, like herring, can be very low, whilst cultivated mussels have amongst the lowest carbon footprints at the point of production.
Eating the recommended two portions of seafood a week is aligned with a flexitarian diet. This is a good option for consumers wanting to reduce their meat intake to help the climate, without the need to become vegetarian or vegan.
Industry action to reduce emissions
Although the seafood carbon footprint is already low, there are opportunities to reduce that footprint. Industry can focus on making improvements in key carbon ‘hotspots’. For example in catching (fuel use), in aquaculture (feed), in some modes of transport (air freight). Another important area is in utilisation of raw material – maximising yield and reducing waste are inextricably linked.
Key steps can, and are, being taken by the industry. These include investing in energy efficient gear and vessels, looking at alternative lower carbon feed sources for aquaculture production, and exploring alternatives to air freight by combining cooling technology (such as super-freezing) with sea freight.
There are many opportunities for businesses associated with reducing their carbon emissions towards net-zero. These include:
- Enhanced sector reputation – showcasing a low emissions industry will further strengthen the UK’s position as a global-leader in responsible seafood sourcing.
- Supply chain resilience - through energy efficiency improvements and transitioning to renewable electricity, businesses can reduce operating costs and minimise exposure to fluctuating gas prices, respectively.
- Sector growth – the UK aquaculture sector in particular has substantial growth potential; this will require access to finance from an investment community increasingly looking for positive environmental (including carbon credentials) and social impacts1 in their returns – deemed failure here could potentially act as a future barrier to securing investment.
- Long-term business viability - financial sustainability is inextricably linked to social and environmental sustainability which are in turn is also partly dependent upon addressing climate change.
Seafood is already playing an important part of the solution to some of our major global challenges; helping to address climate change and ensure food security. Seafood has enormous potential to help meet the protein needs of a growing world population.
Information and resources for seafood businesses
We’re working with industry and government to provide information, support and guidance to help seafood businesses understand and reduce their carbon emissions.
Our seafood emissions profiling tool allows businesses to explore the carbon implications of sourcing and supplying seafood. We’re currently working on developing the tool to meet industry’s latest needs, including aquaculture for the first time.
We’ve also launching a new e-alert which will bring together information on climate change adaptation and mitigation that’s relevant for seafood businesses. This will include updates and news on research and reports, consultations, funding opportunities and events. I’d encourage businesses to sign up to help you stay up to date with the latest information on this complex topic.
Visit our climate change and the seafood industry webpage to find out more, access tools and sign up for alerts.