Trends in fish populations
In a word, sushi. The best sushi comes fresh, caught from the wild. Climate change poses a major risk to fish populations, especially the larger and tastier species. Between warming waters, acidification, and other environmental changes; fishery populations will continue to decrease .
Warming waters lead to fewer fish as the increased temperature decreases oxygen solubility, as well as increasing the aerobic activities of microbes which further drains the oxygen content. Warming waters also increase ice melt which leads to stable stratified layers of water, decreasing nutrient mix and oxygen mixing. Without this mixing the “oxygen minimum zones” or areas where oxygen levels are below those required for higher level life expand dramatically.
Acidification also poses danger for our tasty morsels. Fish generally have between five to twenty times less CO2 in their blood than terrestrial animals, so smaller changes in surrounding areas are magnified in our friendly critters. Additionally, “calcifiers” or animals that incorporate calcium into their bodies in the form of calcium carbonate (imagine any sea-animal with a shell or some other hard bit) do so by making that part of their body more alkaline or less acidic, hard to do as the oceans acidify. Some calcifiers are direct inputs to sushi, while others play an important role in the marine food chain.
While fish are likely to impacted by climate change, the lack of fish is also likely to exacerbate climate change as well. Fish play an important role in carbon sequestration by consuming their food, i.e. carbon, at shallower depths and releasing it through death or excrement at lower depths where it is less likely to return to the atmosphere. While this does not directly impact the quantity of fish available, if carbon taxes are implemented fish prices may be forced to absorb some effect of the net loss in sequestration
One restaurant wants a paradigm shift in the supply chain
The Sustainable Restaurant Group (SRG) is promoting responsible sushi consumption through their Bamboo Sushi venture. SRG focused on optimizing their operations to reduce emissions, but efficient operations can only go so far when the raw inputs account for 60-80% of the carbon emissions . SRG took a harder look at its supply chains and noticed that some fish traveled on up to five plane flights which drastically increased their effective carbon emissions. Since then SRG has rethought where it sources its fish from, going so far as to not offer popular dishes during times of the year when that fish would not be available from a nearby supplier.
Involving the customer
While the supply chain management was beneficial, the restaurant was still a long way from being carbon neutral. To continue to make waves, SRG created visualizations to inform their consumer about their carbon footprint, as well as the attributions to different types of fish. They’ve combined this with an initiative to donate funds, and encourage customers to do the same, to the Seagrass Grow project to offset emissions.
Storms on the Horizon
So far SRG has been able to create an environmentally responsible sushi experience while engaging customers. They’ve also been able to do so relatively cheaply, estimating that it costs their consumers around 25 cents per meal to do so. It’s unclear how they’ll fair in a world of decreasing fish populations and increasing fish prices. If the fish off the coast of California get wiped out, or even just reduced to a level where any fishing depletes the fish supply, will SRG be willing to import fish from around the globe again?
Fishing for solutions
Ultimately, I believe that SRG needs to stay true to its mission of serving sushi that doesn’t exacerbate climate change. This will be difficult in a market where fresh wild-caught fish prices continue to rise but I think there may be some hope on the horizon. So far fish farming has been done in incredibly packed and inhumane conditions, but we may see possibilities for more ethically designed fish farms in the future. SRG can also join the growing coalition of organizations to put increasing pressure on governments to pass climate change laws. Finally, it would be interesting to see exploration into some sort of “lab-grown fish cells” technology, similar to how we’re starting to see lab-grown beef.
Questions for discussion
To what extent do fishing subsidies increase climate change? If these subsidies are necessary to keep food prices down, are there other food based subsidies that wouldn’t increase climate change as much?
How much additional money would consumers be willing to spend for a carbon neutral meal?
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 Harball, E. (2014, June 4). Retrieved from ScientificAmerican.com: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-fish-cool-off-global-warming/count 87
 Orlov, A. (2017, June 28). Retrieved from Mic.com: https://mic.com/articles/182570/should-any-piece-of-sushi-take-five-flights-a-restaurant-group-takes-on-the-future-of-fish#.8UF4CVF4u
 Sustainable Restaurant Group. (2017, November 14). How We’re Taking Action. Retrieved from sustainablerestaurantgroup.com: http://ourfootprint.sustainablerestaurantgroup.com/
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