Making seafood eco and climate-friendly

Low fat, high protein—seafood is a lean and nutritious food source. Fish and shellfish are eaten by 3.3 billion people in the world.[1]In fact, Hong Kong is the second largest consumer of seafood in Asia and eighth largest in the world.[2]

In addition to being a healthy animal protein, seafood can be climate-friendly as well.[3]Meat production accounts for 54% of agricultural carbon emissions—with a large proportion coming from beef and cow milk.[4]Land-based meat production also contributes to land degradation in a time when we need to be protecting carbon sinks like forests and marshes.

But not all is good news. Our growing seafood appetite—particularly in Asia—is driving marine biodiversity loss. Fish maws, sea cucumbers, and the like are prized as luxury food and for their purported medicinal value. And although certain items like shark fins have become less popular nowadays thanks to better awareness, the taste for seafood delicacies is feeding smuggling efforts around the world and driving marine populations on the brink.[5]

And it’s not just seafood delicacies where we have an overfishing problem. Around 60% of fish stocks today are already being fished at their maximum sustainable levels, and more than 30% of fish stocks are being overfished.[6]

Commercial fishing practices also affect non-target marine animals when poorly managed. Dolphins, whales, and sea turtles can get entangled by nets by accident or when they try to eat catch. Bottom trawling destroys seabed habitats and coral reefs. Ghost nets—lost or abandoned by fishing ships—continue to trap and maim all sorts of marine life.

Bycatch of sea turtle and shark (Image source: Green Matters and Scuba Diving Magazine)

So how can we eat healthier and more sustainably without destroying the ocean in the process?

Aquacultures can be one possible answer. Instead of harvesting from the wild, aquatic organisms are cultivated in enclosed or isolated environments to be harvested. Well-managed farms that cultivate species from different trophic levels (e.g., fish, shellfish, and algae) can reduce their environmental footprint while improving ecosystem health as well.

Another option is lab-grown seafood, which is picking up interest from sustainability-minded individuals. Cell-based meat avoid ethical concerns often associated with intensive animal farming. Recent advances in tissue engineering also allow cell-based meat to more closely mimic the mouthfeel of actual cuts of meat.[7]Sadly, lab-grown seafood isn’t commercially available yet, and we won’t see them on shelves at least for a few more years.

In addition to being a healthy and climate-friendly source of animal protein,[8]the ocean is full of study potential for biotechnology, medicine, and disease prevention—especially since 90% of marine species are still unclassified.[9]

To better protect the ocean, you could refer to sustainable seafood guides[10],[11] when purchasing seafood to minimise your impact. A general rule of thumb is to eat wider variety of seafood and choosing those that are lower on the food chain. The choices we make as consumers are instrumental in supporting sustainable fisheries, restoring depleted fish stock and protecting the ecosystem.



Interested Topic:
Nature Conservation

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