Wild-Caught Fish Has Low Carbon Footprint

Some weeks ago on The Broadcast, former Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne pointed out that wild-caught fish has one of the lowest carbon footprints of all human food sources.

That fact is extremely important for our fisheries as we face ever-deepening problems of climate change and global food supply.

Wild fish has an impressively low carbon footprint — estimated at around 3kg CO2 equivalents per kg of product. That is less than rice, olive oil, poultry or farmed fish and much lower than any red meat, especially that produced by industrial agriculture.

It is crucial to note that the low emissions come from smaller-scale fishing — small boats working our inshore and near-shore waters. Large-scale industrial fisheries are a different matter entirely. As with agriculture, the industrial models of production — otter trawls, open-pen aquaculture operations, factory-freezer vessels — produce high carbon emissions and do other environmental damage as well.

The climate-friendly and people-friendly alternative — small-scale fisheries based in coastal communities — will be the focus of the upcoming 4th World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress in St. John’s on June 20–22. At that Congress, Barry Darby and I will lead a session proposing a different management system, one based on fishing effort (controlling input) rather than on quotas (controlling output).

With effort-based management, the carbon footprint of fish harvesting could be even lower and its economic, social and environmental benefits much higher. Our approach is detailed on our website, www.barrydarby.com.

With global food security already precarious and the accelerating threat of climate change making it much worse, the world will increasingly need climate-friendly fisheries to provide essential protein for human consumption. As Canada transitions to a lower-carbon economy, coastal provinces should take full advantage of our fisheries as a low-emission food source.

By shifting government policies and support away from industrial fisheries and encouraging smaller-scale, effort-based harvesting instead, we can be part of the solution to the crises facing us today.


Helen Forsey
St. John’s, N.L.

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