Never mind the calories, how much CO2 is in your meal?

The global fishing fleet is under enormous pressure to rectify unsustainable fishing practices but with over 1% of global oil consumption are they doing enough on climate?

This piece of fish took 711ML (24 fl oz) of diesel just to catch.1

The world is busy discussing the carbon footprint of consumers in our homes, our transport and even our red meat consumption yet the global fishing industry, contributing 1.2% of global oil consumption annually2 , appears to have dodged the public eye.

The industry is dominated by nine Keystone Actors who collectively take 16% of global fishing catch and according to academic journal PLOS ONE “have a disproportionate influence on the health of the oceans”3. The 137 year old Maruha Nichiro of Japan (‘Mahura’) is one of these Keystone Actors4.

Mahura and its peers are currently fighting an environmental battle on the health of the world’s fish stocks yet the grave concerns around this sensitive matter have shielded them from a genuine discussion on the climate change impact stemming from the global seafood trade. In fact, in December 2016 Mahura and the other Keystone Actors signed into effect the “keystone dialogues” which amounted to a pledge of 10 goals on fishery sustainability and marine protection. This pledge is a step in the right direction yet fails to answer one pressing question:

“If, due to climate change and unsustainable fishing, nearly 90 percent of seafood species are over-fished4 then why isn’t the world’s largest fishing company investing in reducing its carbon footprint?”

Mahura’s results, website and investor publications give no indication of any R&D investment into Carbon Emissions, in fact there is no mention of it’s climate change policies at all5. Is this a case of big problems first (unsustainable fishing) and little problems second (climate change) or is this an insight into the lack of long-term thinking occuring in conference rooms around the world when it comes to climate change. Arguably, there can be no company with a greater climate threat to its future than Mahura yet there is no genuine investment in green technology.

The global seafood supply chain relies on 20th century technology to provide 20% of the worlds food4. The fleet, burning over 50 billion litres of fuel annually2, has not attempted to harness the renewable energy around it in the oceans, waves and wind. This global fleet, heading further from port every year to maintain its catch, have an enviable position working amongst the worlds strongest natural forces yet there is a neglible amount of renewable energy captured across the entire fleet.

This global fleet…have an enviable position working amongst the worlds strongest natural forces yet there is a neglible amount of renewable energy harvested across the entire fleet.

They could deploy Beluga Skysails, who have completed pilot tests to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20% of cargo ship fuel on trans-atlantic crossings6. They could harness wave power as was completed commercially in Hawaii in 20167 or even grow their wind and solar generation capabilities to enhance their propulsion and refrigeration systems renewable energy component8.

These technologies, relying only on R&D already performed by other industries, could make a marked difference in the carbon footprint of the global seafood supply chain. In fact, much like the carbon offsets and rebates on offer to onshore carbon reductions, the signalling effect is as critical to others in the chain as the initial carbon reduction. Mahura can take a leadership position in the entire global seafood industry by proactively harnessing the power of the seas.

But, can we really expect the global fishing fleet to go green in the face of already stressed fish stocks and squeezed margins? Are the established fishing fleets of the world the right actors to make this change or does the world need a ‘Tesla of the seas’ to see some movement? Does the UN have a bigger role to play in encouraging and facilitating carbon reduction at sea “where it is no single nations problem”?

And perhaps the most pressing question, are consumers ready to face up to their impact on the globe with each purchase? We give people enough nutritional information on the side of every meal to care about themselves, is it time we armed them with the same information to start caring about the planet?

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References

(1) Parker, R. W. R. and Tyedmers, P. H. (2015), Fuel consumption of global fishing fleets: current understanding and knowledge gaps. Fish Fish, 16: 684–696. doi:10.1111/faf.12087

(2) Tyedmers PH, Parker WR. (2005) Fueling of Global Fishing Fleets. Ambio.

(3) Österblom H, Jouffray J-B, Folke C, Crona B, Troell M, Merrie A, et al. (2015) Transnational Corporations as ‘Keystone Actors’ in Marine Ecosystems. PLoS ONE10(5): e0127533. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127533

(4) Khalamayzer, A. (2017) Will the world’s 9 biggest seafood companies help save the oceans? GreenBiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/will-worlds-9-biggest-seafood-companies-help-save-oceans

(5) Mahura Nichiro Corporation. (2017). Corporate Profile. https://www.maruha-nichiro.co.jp/english/corporate/index.html

(6)  “Skysails Gmbh – Advantages”. (2017). Skysails.Info. http://www.skysails.info/english/skysails-marine/skysails-propulsion-for-cargo-ships/advantages/

(7) Bussewitz C. (2016). America’s first wave-produced power goes online in Hawaii. https://phys.org/news/2016-09-wave-produced-electricity-online-hawaii.html

(8) DeLaOsa J. (2017). Ship Powered By Solar Energy Sails Will Head Out To Sea In 2018. https://www.ecnmag.com/blog/2017/07/ship-powered-solar-energy-sails-will-head-out-sea-2018

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9 thoughts on “Never mind the calories, how much CO2 is in your meal?

  1. I greatly enjoyed how this article clearly points out the apparent disregard of several fishing companies to take an active role in reducing their carbon footprint. I was pretty astonished at how Maruha, the biggest player in the space, did not even mention climate change in its long-term planning. I believe that your question regarding the UN’s role is on point, and I believe that they along with other regulatory agencies need to expand their role in reducing carbon emissions. From the financial perspective of these fishing companies, it seems financially sound to postpone any high capital investments in carbon reducing technology until required to do so. While the UN does play a role in setting strategic carbon emission goals for various participant nations, it should set a closer watch on this industry since it is a major consumer of global oil consumption. The UN can serve as an advisory and regulatory agency that ensures that member nation firms engage in cap and trade programs to reduce their carbon footprint, and publicly recognize those companies making significant strides in working towards diminishing the effects of climate change.

  2. Pretty eye-opening; I never made the connection between fish and CO2.

    I agree with your suggestion on the need for the UN to play a bigger role in this. Even if capital expenditure is expensive for the industry presently, UN can still impose some kind of indirect limits in the short to medium term, through cap and trade for instance.

    However, I think we are yet to unleash our most lethal weapon yet – the media. The media has a big role to play in campaign towards a green world. Companies like Mahura need to be called out for their apparent lack of empathy for the world we live in, despite profiting from same. This would discourage many others and get them to pay more attention to the cause. In an increasingly connected world, I haven’t seen anything more powerful in getting large corporates do the right thing.

  3. Pretty eye-opening; I never made the connection between fishing and CO2 emmission.

    I agree with your suggestion on the need for the UN to play a bigger role in this. Even if capital expenditure is expensive for the industry presently, UN can still impose some kind of indirect limits in the short to medium term, through cap and trade for instance.

    However, I think we are yet to unleash our most lethal weapon yet – the media. The media has a big role to play in campaign towards a green world. Companies like Mahura need to be called out for their apparent lack of empathy for the world we live in, despite profiting from same. This would discourage many others and get them to pay more attention to the cause. In an increasingly connected world, I haven’t seen anything more powerful in getting large corporates do the right thing.

  4. Very thought provoking and demonstrates the complexity of reducing carbon emissions.

    Perception is so often disconnected from reality as can be the case with carbon emissions in the fishing industry. Consumers oftentimes view ocean, wild-caught fish as healthier and more sustainable, while forgetting that wild-caught fish requires diesel chugging boats that spend weeks out at sea. Fish farms, oftentimes viewed as less sustainable and producing fish that are exposed to higher levels of toxins via industrial waste run-off, have been under pressure in the eyes of the casual shopper. Whole Foods has raised awareness through partnerships with the Marine Stewardship Council, but I often wonder if the everyday consumer who only takes a cursory glance at the labels at Whole Foods ends up considering the complexities of sustainable fish sourcing. I am afraid that fear of fish farming could misdirect capital and reduce pressure for fisherman to invest in cleaner boat technology.

    Unfortunately, the fishing industry is highly fragmented and finding money for capital investment is challenging. Consumers, as with so many environmental concerns, will likely have to be the force to drive change. But as stated, do consumers have the time to educate themselves correctly to make well informed buying decisions that reflect their underlying preferences for long-term sustainable fishing? For change to occur, consumers must be well informed and discerning. More articles such as this are needed to drive change.

  5. It’d be really interesting to see Mahura adopt an IKEA-style model of sustainability, although perhaps that needs to be entrenched earlier in a company’s life cycle. Both companies do have their fates linked to the preservation of a natural resource.

    On the other hand, could capital investment or a “Tesla of the sea” movement really solve this problem, or does the responsibility primarily lie with consumers?

  6. As the author stated, margins in the global seafood industry have already been reduced, as major players contend with higher costs associated with sustainable fishing policies to ensure the long-term viability of seafood supply. In this fragmented sector, the will to invest additional capital towards reducing carbon footprint to ameliorate climate change concerns thus remains minimal. If regulatory bodies, such as the UN, push for greater regulation in this space it is increasingly likely that the seafood industry will simply pass these additional costs on to their customers in order to remain profitable, if larger players could even survive the necessary capital investments to comply with the regulations in the first place. Is it fair to expect consumers, especially those living in poverty in the developing world who rely on the global supply of seafood for subsistence, to absorb these costs? I do not think it is simply a matter of educating consumers. More importantly, the question is whether customers are willing, or even should be willing, to accept higher costs on these vital, basic food items?

  7. Firstly, very accurate observation that the fishing industry has not taken the heat from the public, like the red meat industry. One potential reason I could think of is that consumers are not as aware of retail fish brands as they are for retail meat brands (i.e. boar’s head, other cold cuts brands). Alternatively, if this is because pollution in waters are harder to attribute to individual countries, then a solution involving the UN could be a start. However, I imagine this would come into similar problems of commitment and enforcement as international carbon pledges have in the past. I think it is more likely that the change will come as a result of public pressure on individual companies, like you suggest.

    If we assume that companies will be the primary driver of pollution improvement in the fishing industry, my follow up question would be: which steps of the supply chain is causing the most problems? Do these large market leaders work with upstream suppliers and what insight do companies have into the processes of these suppliers? Are large retail fish brands sourcing there fish domestically or internationally? My thinking is that the higher consumer’s awareness is of the fish brand and the closer the sourcing is to the end consumer market, the more likely the supply chain is to have better practices.

    My last thought is on the tradeoff between catching fish “in the wild” and fish farming. I think to most consumers, catching fish in the ocean is more appealing, and fits in with the idea of organic food. However, with high environmental costs, you can see a scenario where fish farming is actually better for the environment – something that a lot of younger, more environmentally conscious shoppers are not aware of.

  8. A large part of the incentive to overfish rests with lack of government regulation and in some cases, outright regulatory incentive – fishing subsidies are common, especially in countries where fish is a commercial export such as the EU, China, and Brazil. Tropical-zone areas in particular are hit the hardest as increasing water temperatures lead to more bacteria, microbes, and algae which create dead zones completely lacking in oxygen that fish would need to live. These rising temperatures combined with historical overfishing leads to a bleak picture of rampant malnutrition in those countries too poor to afford or unable to access typical sources of macronutrients, instead relying on fish. Governments should treat overfishing not just as a climate change issue but as a worldwide health issue that could impact millions.

  9. Wow, this is a very eye-opening and insightful view observing a significant challenge to fighting climate change. I am not particularly surprised that Mahura has not made itself a leader in reducing carbon emissions – they are a legacy company that is challenged with tough margins. It is hard to imagine that they have taken too much initiative to be a leader in the climate change debate when the demands of business-as-usual have caused them to focus on more operational and financial challenges at hand. While I believe the UN should ultimately play a role in pushing Mahura more aggressively, I would be interested to see if investments in things like Beluga Skysails could present a legitimate long-term business case that could help them grow margins and reduce emissions at the same time.

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