Text: Lisa Bergqvist
Baltic Breakfast: Seafood consumption from a sustainability perspective
Is it sustainable to increase seafood consumption and how could consumers be encouraged to make sustainable choices? These issues were in focus during the last Baltic Breakfast webinar where researchers Sara Hornborg and Malin Jonell participated.
Sara Hornborg, researcher at RISE, Research Institutes of Sweden, started out by concluding that seafood, although a highly diverse group, generally is a low-carbon and nutritious food relative to other animal-based option. Will then increased seafood consumption benefit food sustainability and marine ecosystems? Well, that depends.
– It depends on what you replace, what impacts you compare and what seafood you choose, says Sara Hornborg and raises another question: where will all the seafood actually come from?
In Sweden the consumers barely reach up to the dietary advice of eating seafood 2-3 times a week, but at the same time there is a lack of domestic supply of seafood and 75 percent of the volume is imported. 20 percent of the consumption comes from domestic fisheries and only 6 percent from aquaculture.
– Increase in consumption calls for more import, increase in aquaculture and use of more of the less utilized resources. That could be species of less consumer interest today, such as carp fishes, or to eat more parts of the fish – we have a focus on fillets today.
Large variability between different types of seafood
The carbon footprint of seafood varies a lot between different species. A study of Norwegian seafood shows for example that salmon has a higher footprint than European poultry, while the carbon footprint of herring is as low as that of carrot. But many seafoods also has many nutritional values, for example the small pelagic fish such as sprat and herring.
– Seafood is not seafood – there is a hugh variability. It can play any role in carbon footprints and nutrition of diets, says Sara Hornborg.
Apart from the carbon footprint, there are other environmental aspects of seafood to consider. Some pressures are shared between other food system, while others are unique for seafood production, such as bycatch and habitat destruction.
– No food comes without impacts. It's rather to define and characterize what sets sustainable limits, says Sara Hornborg.
Sara Hornborg, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.
“Being a conscious seafood consumer is not easy”
Researcher Malin Jonell, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Stockholm Resilience Centre, has studied the role of consumers and other market actors in relation to seafood sustainability.
– Being a conscious seafood consumer is not easy. We are bombarded by messages around health, sustainability, food safety etcetera, she concludes.
The EAT-Lancet report, launched in 2019 with the objective to assess how if it is possible to feed 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries, stated that seafood will be an important component in feeding a growing world population. The report recommended a consumption of at least 28 grams of seafood per day. In average, the people around in the world eat almost that much, but there are large differences between different countries.
– In particularly South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa consumption could be substantially increased to boost the nutrition of people. For us Swedes it’s not that important, but it could help us to shift away from the impactful and less healthy red meet, says Malin Jonell.
Malin Jonell, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Certification and nudging can guide consumers
Studies show that in general the consumers do care about sustainability when choosing seafood, but other things are considered even more important, such as taste and food safety.
– We can probably not rely on the consumers for shifting seafood consumption to sustainability. But I would like to stress the importance of individual consumers to ask difficult questions in the local grocery store or restaurant. What you ask will help the big and important actors to provide the information that we need, says Malin Jonell.
There are different ways to guide the consumers in making sustainable choices, for example through certification. In Sweden around 28 percent of all seafood is eco-certified by ASC or MSC – a high figure in a global perspective. But how can we make sure that certification is effective?
– Most key environmental dimensions are covered to some extent, but for example climate standards are generally not covered, says Malin Jonell.
Nudging is another way to push consumers toward more beneficial behaviours, for example by having footsteps at the floor in the store or by placing some products at eye level. This has high acceptance and is relatively easy to implement, but there are knowledge gaps when it comes for example to effectiveness. Another way is choice restrictions, where retailers simply don’t offer certain products, such as non-organic bananas.
– This is likely effective but challenging to implement, because retailers are afraid of consumers going elsewhere. But somebody needs to take the first step, says Malin Jonell who thinks that both nudging and choice restriction should be used more than today.
– It’s tricky to change consumption patterns, but not impossible. The industry and the private sectors need to step up and explore together with other actors in society.
What would you like policy makers to do? asks moderator Gun Rudquist.
– In fisheries management it’s really to minimise pressures and optimize the societal value of the output of the system. It’s allocations of quotas and elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, says Sara Hornborg.
– Think about blue food production as part of food production in total and help steer consumption away from the more impactful red meat to more seafood, but also look at how you can help young people to change their dietary preferences by serving other types of seafood already at daycares and schools, says Malin Jonell.