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Carbon Emissions: Beef, Lamb, Lobster or Fish?

Credit: Reg Watson
Credit: Reg Watson

By MarEx 2018-04-03 21:35:55

A new study by the University of Tasmania, Australia, and Canadian scientists has found that catching most types of fish produces far less carbon per kilogram of protein than land-based alternatives such as beef or lamb.

The researchers found that fisheries for small pelagic species such as anchovies and sardines emit a fraction of the carbon generated by red meat production. On average, global fisheries have a low-carbon footprint similar to that of poultry.

Lead author Dr Robert Parker, now at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, said producing, distributing and consuming food accounts for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, most of which is from animal production. “Animal protein is an important source of nutrition, but it is also one of the world’s largest contributors to global climate change, responsible for roughly half of all food production-related emissions.”

Limited data has meant that official estimates have previously either overlooked the fishing industry’s carbon emissions or made generalizations based on small samples. “By filling that information gap our study will inform food and climate policy and shed light on the role that fisheries play in the environmental cost of food production,” Parker said.

Professor Caleb Gardner from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies said Australia’s fishing industry catches comparatively low volumes and contributes just 0.5 percent of overall global emissions from fishing. However, Australian fishers target proportionately more high-value crustaceans such rock lobsters and prawns, which are among the world’s most carbon-intensive fisheries on a per kilogram basis.

“As a result, on average the Australian fishing industry emits 5.2 kilos of carbon for each kilo of fish caught,” says Gardner. “This contrasts with the U.S., where each kilogram of fish landed cost 1.6 kilograms of carbon, and South America, where just one kilogram of carbon is emitted for each kilogram of fish due to high volumes of anchovies trawled off Peru.

“Globally, carbon emissions from marine fisheries are comparatively low compared with the environmental cost of red meat such as beef and lamb, which is estimated to range from 50 kilograms to as much as 750 kilos of carbon per kilogram of meat.

“The carbon cost of our food needs would be reduced if people consumed less red meat and more low-carbon alternatives such as fish, especially under-utilized small pelagic species such as mackerel and sardines, which currently have low demand and are often used for animal feed instead of human consumption,” Gardner said.

The research published in the journal Nature Climate Change provides the first global breakdown of wild fishery emissions by country, and compares the carbon impact of each nation’s fishing industry with agriculture and livestock production.