Alaska pollock fish sticks, surimi processing generates “significant” greenhouse gas emissions

Published on
January 24, 2020

The processing of Alaskan pollock into products such as fish sticks, surimi and fish fillets generates “significant greenhouse gas emissions,” researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz have found.

According to a study released by the university, the processing of the products post-catch results in almost twice as many emissions as the fishing itself. Typically, climate impact analysis of fishing ends once the catch is brought on-board.

"The food system is a significant source of global greenhouse gas emissions, and Alaskan pollock is one of the biggest fisheries in the world," said Brandi McKuin, a postdoctoral researcher in environmental studies at UCSC, and the lead author on the paper. "These findings highlight the need to take a comprehensive approach to analyzing the climate impacts of the food sector.”

The study determined the actual harvest of Alaskan pollock is a “relatively fuel-efficient fishery” because of the effectiveness of mid-water trawling. Because so many fish are caught at once, it reduces fishing time, therefore saving fuel.

However, the paper reported that once the pollock is caught, it’s often shipped abroad for processing, then shipped back to the United States and then finally exported overseas, actions that dramatically increase the carbon footprint of the fishery.

Study co-author Elliot Campbell, who studies data-driven methods of assessing the climate impact of food production, said taking a wider view of the carbon footprint of fisheries – ensuring the inclusion of the transportation and processing of fish post-harvest – is necessary to gather the full impact the sector is having on the environment.

“This study highlights the need to expand our view encompass the entire supply chain,” Campbell said. “It’s not enough to look just at fishing. The picture is much bigger, and it’s much more complicated.”

Even organizations that monitor the climate impact of the seafood industry don’t consider the carbon footprint of processing, according to McKuin.

“This study adds more data, so they can create a better tool,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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