Fish sticks may seem harmless, but the tiny food is creating a huge carbon footprint.
A new study has found that transforming Alaskan Pollock into fish sticks, imitation crab and fish fillets generates nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions produced by fishing itself.
The team noted that catching the fish is a ‘relatively fuel-efficient fishery’, but then it is shipped in massive containers which burn poor-quality bunker fuel that produces high levels of sulfur particles.
The study, conducted by a team at the University of California – Santa Cruz (UCSC), analysed the largely overlooked process of making certain seafood.
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A new study has found that transforming Alaskan Pollock into fish sticks, imitation crab and fish fillets generates nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions produced by fishing itself
Brandi McKuin, a postdoctoral researcher in environmental studies at UCSC, said: ‘The food system is a significant source of global greenhouse gas emissions, and Alaskan pollock is one of the biggest fisheries in the world.’
Alaskan Pollock is a huge market, as it is processed into different food including fish sticks, imitation crab and fillets.
The fishing of this creature is relatively environmentally friendly, as large nets can capture a massive amount of fish in one haul.
However, the process afterwards is what contributes to climate change.
The catch is loaded into large shipping containers that burn a massive amount of fuel, most of which is cheap, poor quality bunker fuel that produces high levels of sulfer particles.
And McKuin explains sulfur oxides from ship fuels have a climate-cooling effect.
The team noted that catching the fish is a ‘relatively fuel-efficient fishery’, but then it is shipped in massive containers (stock) which burn poor-quality bunker fuel that produces high levels of sulfur particles
‘Seafood products that are exported have a lower climate impact than domestic seafood products,’ she said, adding that the climate impacts of shipping will change this year as new regulations for cleaner marine fuels take effect.
‘Shipping has a massive influence on climate and a shift to cleaner fuels will diminish the cooling effect from sulfur oxides and increase the climate impact of products that undergo transoceanic shipping, including seafood.’
Coauthor Elliot Campbell, a professor of environmental studies at UCSC, is a pioneer of data-driven methods of assessing the climate impact of food production.
‘This study highlights the need to expand our view to encompass the entire supply chain,’ he said. ‘It’s not enough to look just at fishing. The picture is much bigger, and it’s much more complicated.’
Organizations like Seafood Watch have developed tools to calculate the carbon footprint of seafood but haven’t included processing yet, noted McKuin, adding, ‘This study adds more data, so they can create a better tool.’
A separate study released in December 2019 revealed the carbon footprint of dining out.
Alaskan Pollock (pictured) is a huge market, as it is processed into different food including fish sticks, imitation crab and fillets
Families that often dine out and consume large quantities of sweets and alcohol are likely to have a higher carbon footprint than meat eaters, a study claims.
Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the food habits and carbon footprints of around 60,000 households across Japan.
They found that meat consumption typically only accounts for only 10 per cent of the different in environmental impact between low and high carbon households.
In contrast, households with high carbon footprints typically consumed around two to three times more sweets and alcohol than those with low footprints
Eating out, for example, was found to contribute 175 per cent more carbon emissions for the average household than eating meats.
In fact, dining in restaurants was seen to contribute an annual average of 770 kilograms (121 stone) of greenhouse gases towards the environmental impact of those households with a high carbon footprint.
In contrast, meat consumption cost just 280 kilograms (44 stone).