[env-trinity] CBB: Study Looks At Sustainable Salmon Production, Says Salmon Fisheries Low Global Scale Impact

Sari Sommarstrom sari at sisqtel.net
Wed Nov 25 10:42:37 PST 2009

Weekly Fish and Wildlife News
November 25, 2009
Issue No. 510

* Study Looks At Sustainable Salmon Production, 
Says Salmon Fisheries Low Global Scale Impact

Popular thinking about how to improve food 
systems for the better often misses the point, 
according to the results of a three-year global 
study of salmon production systems.

Rather than pushing for organic or land-based 
production, or worrying about simple metrics such 
as "food miles," the study finds that the world 
can achieve greater environmental benefits by 
focusing on improvements to key aspects of production and distribution.

For example, what farmed salmon are fed, how wild 
salmon are caught and the choice to buy frozen 
over fresh matters more than organic vs. 
conventional or wild vs. farmed when considering 
global scale environmental impacts such as 
climate change, ozone depletion, loss of critical 
habitat, and ocean acidification.

The study is the world's first comprehensive 
global-scale look at a major food commodity from 
a full life cycle perspective, and the 
researchers examined everything ­ how salmon are 
caught in the wild, what they're fed when farmed, 
how they're transported, how they're consumed, 
and how all of this contributes to both 
environmental degradation and socioeconomic benefits.

The researchers behind the study sought to 
understand how the world can develop truly 
sustainable food systems through the lens of 
understanding the complexities associated with 
wild and farmed salmon production, processing and 
distribution. They found that decision-making for 
food must learn to fully account for the life 
cycle socioeconomic and environmental costs of 
food production. How we weight the importance of 
such impacts is ultimately subjective and in the 
realm of policy and culture, but using a 
comprehensive approach provides a more nuanced 
process for informed decision-making. Even food 
has a lifecycle, and the world must learn to 
comprehend the full costs of it in order to 
design reliable, resilient food systems to feed a 
world population that's forecast to grow to 9 billion in less than 40 years.

The researchers chose salmon as their focus as it 
exemplifies important characteristics of modern 
food systems, yet offers unique opportunities for 
comparison. It is available around the world at 
any time and in any location, regardless of 
season or local ecosystem, it is available in 
numerous product forms, and it is distributed 
using a variety of transport modes. Unlike many 
other food systems, however, it is available from 
both wild sources and a range of farmed production systems.

While it isn't easy to balance people, profit and 
planet, the world must do much better. Food 
production, in aggregate, is the single largest 
source of environmental degradation globally. 
Impacts vary dramatically depending on what, where and how food is produced.

For example, early results of the study found 
that growing salmon in land-based farms can 
increase total greenhouse gas emissions ten-fold 
over conventional farming depending on how and where the farming is conducted.

Similarly, while organic farming of many crops 
offers benefits over conventional production, 
organic salmon production gives rise to impacts 
very similar to conventional farming due to the 
use of resource intensive fish meals and oils. 
Beyond the farm, it's important to also consider 
the total impact of food preparation. Driving to 
the store alone and then cooking alone at home 
has a big environmental impact. Going out to 
dinner more, or just eating more frequently with 
friends and family at home, has huge benefit.

For concerned consumers, it's important to think 
about how food was produced and transported ­ not 
just where it was produced ­ when making food choices.

Initial Findings from the study:

--- Fish should swim, not fly. Air-freighting 
salmon, and any food, results in substantial 
increases in environmental impacts. If more 
frozen food were consumed, more container ships 
would be used to ship food. Container ships are 
by far the most efficient and carbon-friendly way 
to transport food. Globally, the majority of 
salmon fillets are currently consumed fresh and 
never frozen. In fish-loving Japan, which gets 
much of its fish by air, switching to 75 percent 
frozen salmon would have more benefit than all of 
Europe eating locally farmed salmon.
--- The choice to buy frozen matters more than 
organic vs. conventional or wild vs. farmed.
--- A full life cycle assessment approach to 
research provides a more nuanced process for 
informed decision-making. Even food has a 
lifecycle, and we must comprehend the full impact 
to make meaningful improvements to food systems. Tradeoffs may be inevitable.
--- Contrary to what is widely perceived, the 
vast majority of broad-scale resource use and 
environmental impacts (energy inputs, GHG 
emissions, etc) from conventional salmon farming 
result from the feeds used to produce them. What 
happens at or around a farm site may be important 
for local ecological reasons but contributes very 
little to global scale concerns such as global warming.
--- Across the globe, what is used to feed salmon 
and the amounts of feeds used vary widely. As a 
result, impacts are very different. Norwegian 
salmon farming resulted in generally lower 
overall impacts while farmed salmon production in 
the UK resulted in the greatest impacts.
--- Reducing the amount of animal-derived inputs 
to feeds (e.g. fish meals and oils along with 
livestock derived meals) in favor of plant-based 
feed inputs can markedly reduce environmental impacts.
--- Growing organic salmon using fish meals and 
oils from very resource intensive fisheries 
results in impacts very similar to conventional farmed salmon production.

If not planned carefully, technological fixes 
aimed at addressing local environmental 
challenges associated with conventional salmon 
farming can result in substantial increases in 
global-scale environmental impacts.

In general, salmon fisheries result in relatively 
low global-scale environmental impacts.

However, substantial differences exist between 
how salmon are caught. Catching salmon in large 
nets as they school together has one tenth the 
impact of catching them in small numbers using baited hooks and lures.

Across salmon production systems ­ and all food 
systems ­ the world is often swimming against the 
tide. Instead of working with nature, people work 
against it, chasing fish in the open ocean with 
big diesel engines or substituting energy 
demanding pumping and water treatment for free 
ecosystem services in salmon farming. We can and 
must do better than this and start to swim with the tide.

The most recent published paper from the study 
can be seen in the journal Environmental Science 
& Technology: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es9010114
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