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Fisheries Research, Volume 236, April 2021, 105850 | The environmental impacts of pelagic fish caught by Scottish vessels

New study finds Scottish pelagic fisheries have low carbon footprint

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021, 07:00 (GMT + 9)

A new study has found that Scottish caught pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel have a low carbon footprint compared to other types of food production, making them a good food choice for the environmentally conscious consumer.

This study, just published, “The environmental impacts of pelagic fish caught by Scottish vessels” was carried out by Frances Sandison as part of her PhD studies and funded by the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group, Shetland Islands Council, University of Aberdeen, University of the Highlands and Islands, and Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation.

Her study found that Scottish-caught pelagic fish have a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact when compared to other seafood products. This includes UK farmed salmon, which is 7.2 times higher, and Norwegian caught cod and haddock, which are 3.5 and 3.9 times higher than Scottish caught pelagic fish.

This extended her earlier finding at the NAFC Marine Centre (which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands) which revealed that the carbon footprint of the Shetland mackerel trawl fishery was much lower compared to land-based meat production, including chicken, beef and pork. Seafood production in general has a lower carbon footprint than land-based meat production.

Illustration of system boundaries where the large boxed area represents this study's system boundary and everything outside representing downstream events. Shaded boxes indicate where background data was used. In terms of fuel, engine oil and refrigerants, background data was used for their initial production from raw materials. Primary data was used thereafter for quantities consumed during the fishing phase. Arrows indicate direction of pathway for resource use, with products indicated in square boxes and processes in oval ones | Click image to enlarge

This confirms that sustainably managed Scottish pelagic fish represents a climate smart food source that helps deliver targets for achieving net zero carbon.

Frances Sandison says: “In Scotland we have access to a fantastically low impact, highly nutritious, locally caught source of protein. Compared to other meat sources the choice is clear for the environmentally conscious consumer – we should be eating more local pelagic fish.”

Component analysis of LCA results for the Scottish Pelagic Fleet 2015–2017 showing the impact categories of Abiotic depletion (ADP), Abiotic depletion of fossil fuels (ADPFF), Global warming (GWP), Ozone layer depletion (ODP), Human toxicity (HTP), Fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity (FETP), Marine aquatic ecotoxicity (METP), Terrestrial ecotoxicity (TETP), Photochemical oxidation (POMF), Acidification (AP) and Eutrophication (EP), with y axis beginning at 89.5 %. | Click image to enlarge

Her environmental impact study also found that fuel consumption in the fishing phase is the main contributor of carbon emissions. Enhancing fuel efficiency through innovations in vessel design and fishing practices, and a transition to alternative fuel sources are part of the Scottish pelagic sector’s efforts to minimise emissions.

Ian Gatt, chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group, said: “We congratulate Frances on the successful completion of her research. For the Scottish pelagic sector there is a lot at stake with climate change, given that mackerel and herring have an established global trade that helps ensure food security as an affordable and nutritious protein in many parts of the world. Scottish fishermen have invested heavily in modern vessels and fish handling systems, and processors in the latest equipment, to ensure a high quality, low carbon footprint product that can be delivered to market in the most efficient manner.

“As such, Scottish mackerel and herring production really do tick all the right boxes when it comes to sustainability, nutrition, and low carbon footprint.”


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