PUBLICATION Journal article

Environmental performance of blue foods

Fish and other aquatic foods (blue foods) present an opportunity for more sustainable diets1,2. Yet comprehensive comparison has been limited due to sparse inclusion of blue foods in environmental impact studies3,4 relative to the vast diversity of production5. Here we provide standardized estimates of greenhouse gas, nitrogen, phosphorus, freshwater and land stressors for species groups covering nearly three quarters of global production. We find that across all blue foods, farmed bivalves and seaweeds generate the lowest stressors. Capture fisheries predominantly generate greenhouse gas emissions, with small pelagic fishes generating lower emissions than all fed aquaculture, but flatfish and crustaceans generating the highest. Among farmed finfish and crustaceans, silver and bighead carps have the lowest greenhouse gas, nitrogen and phosphorus emissions, but highest water use, while farmed salmon and trout use the least land and water. Finally, we model intervention scenarios and find improving feed conversion ratios reduces stressors across all fed groups, increasing fish yield reduces land and water use by up to half, and optimizing gears reduces capture fishery emissions by more than half for some groups. Collectively, our analysis identifies high-performing blue foods, highlights opportunities to improve environmental performance, advances data-poor environmental assessments, and informs sustainable diets.

Gephart, J.A., P.J.G. Henriksson, R.W.R. Parker, A. Shepon, K. D. Gorospe, K. Bergman, G. Eshel, C.D. Golden, B.S. Halpern, S. Hornborg, M. Jonell, M. Metian, K. Mifflin, R. Newton, P. Tyedmers, W. Zhang, F. Ziegler and M. Troell. 2021. Environmental performance of blue foods. Nature 597:360–365.