The carbon footprint of dinner: How ‘green’ are fish sticks?

Popular products generate significant ‘post-catch’ emissions, underscoring the need to measure what happens after fish are caught

University of California – Santa Cruz

Processing Alaskan pollock into fish sticks, imitation crab, and fish fillets generates significant greenhouse gas emissions, a new study reveals.

Credit: UC Santa Cruz

Fish sticks may be a tasty option for dinner, but are they good for the planet?

A new study of the climate impacts of seafood products reveals that the processing of Alaskan pollock into fish sticks, imitation crab, and fish fillets generates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Post-catch processing generates nearly twice the emissions produced by fishing itself, which is typically where the analysis of the climate impact of seafood ends, according to the findings by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“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. “These findings highlight the need to take a comprehensive approach to analyzing the climate impacts of the food sector.”

McKuin is the lead author on a new paper that appears online in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. Titled “Climate Forcing by Battered-and-breaded Fillets and Crab-flavored sticks from Alaska Pollock,” the paper takes a detailed, comprehensive look at the climate impact of the seafood supply chain.

Alaskan pollock is sold as fillets and trim pieces that are used to make products like fish sticks and imitation crab, said McKuin. “It’s a huge market,” she said.

Unlike previous studies that have largely overlooked the downstream processing activities associated with Alaskan pollock, this study examined all the components of the supply chain, from fishing through the retail display case. The results identify “hot spots” where the seafood industry could concentrate its efforts to reduce its climate impacts, said McKuin.

The authors analyzed the climate impacts of transoceanic shipping of exported seafood products, and their study is the first to consider the climate effects of so-called “short-lived” pollutants in the carbon footprint of seafood.

They found that Alaskan pollock is a relatively fuel-efficient fishery: Pollock are caught in large nets called midwater trawls that are towed behind boats, hauling in a lot of fish in each landing, and reducing the climate impact of the fishing process. After the catch, Alaskan pollock are shipped for processing, and in some cases, transported on large container ships that burn copious amounts of fuel, including cheaper, poor-quality bunker fuel that produces high levels of sulfur particles.

McKuin noted that sulfur oxides from ship fuels have a climate-cooling effect. “Seafood products that are exported have a lower climate impact than domestic seafood products,” she said, adding that the climate impacts of shipping will change this year as new regulations for cleaner marine fuels take effect. “Shipping has a massive influence on climate and a shift to cleaner fuels will diminish the cooling effect from sulfur oxides and increase the climate impact of products that undergo transoceanic shipping, including seafood,” said McKuin.

Coauthor Elliot Campbell, a professor of environmental studies at UCSC, is a pioneer of data-driven methods of assessing the climate impact of food production.

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

Organizations like Seafood Watch have developed tools to calculate the carbon footprint of seafood but haven’t included processing yet, noted McKuin, adding, “This study adds more data, so they can create a better tool.”

###

From EurekAlert!

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89 thoughts on “The carbon footprint of dinner: How ‘green’ are fish sticks?

      • I have suggested the use of plastic bags tied snuggly about the neck after placing said bag over their heads.

    • To satisfy the Global Warming gods, people must learn to graze grass – or, even better, to photosynthesize. Are authors really ruminants?

    • It’s amazing that they want to maintain that virtually anything we do is bad for the planet. Heating water for a shower is patently bad in their estimation. Making water potable also is bad. We have to live off only what nature provides and making things better is ecocide. Yeah, I get it. They can go die young.

    • Refrain from eating both those products, you’ll be less likely to pass away any time soon. “Fish Sticks” take the pollock and coat it with breading made of refined grains, industrial seed oils and high-fructose corn syrup used as a preservative. “Imitation Crab” aka “surimi” processes the pollock with man-made ingredients like “hydrolyzed animal protein” and processed grains to make a “fish” product which us up to 45% carbohydrates! Both products are very highly processed, and the ingredients will make you fat, increase your insulin resistance, and raise your blood pressure–way greater concerns than the fiction of “carbon footprint!”

      Buy your fish unprocessed, fresh or frozen, and broil it with grass-fed butter. Your body will thank you.
      You may also actually taste a pure product called “Fish!”

    • Yes it is true, everything we do will cause CO2 emissions. Even death is a problem because we will decompose, and then create “post-life” emissions. What we need is a time machine so we can go back to before we are all born and just not do it. That would be the best solution to global warming and certainly deserving of as much tax dollars investment as we can shovel down that bottomless pit. I propose a new tax system where the believers in end-of-times warming can direct a voluntary 10% of their wealth annually to time travel research. They shouldn’t mind as, in less than ten years, we will all be boiled alive (or dead depending on your time perspective) and they won’t need the money then.

  1. I really hope my tax dollars didn’t fund the obvious. Fish farming is where the industry is headed. What’s the comparative impact?

    • What’s the comparative impact?
      Who cares?
      Why the alarmists are allowed to continue with the fiction that CO2 is a problem is beyond me. The government wants to tax the air you breath in order to control the weather.

      • There is one potential downfall in Mr Mchenry’s point! Commercial reality! I recall several years ago (20+) that Scotish farmed Salmon was singled out by American Salmon producers as being diseased by bugs because they couldn’t swim naturally in the oceans that would naturally remove such tiny creatures, they wanted to at worst bann it or at beat tax the importation of it to America, which tended to undercut the home produced product! However, the Scotish producers changed their farming practices with larger pools for storage & feeding,which evened things up! I have eaten both open water fish & farmed fish, perhaps it’s me, but I couldn’t tell the delicious difference between them, it was ALL good! 😉

        • Alan the Brit:
          Obviously you have never eaten the Wild Baby Coho Salmon Alder Wood Grilled, at IVAR’S Seafood House in Seattle Washington’s Waterfront.
          https://www.ivars.com/locations/salmon-house
          It is worth the plane ride—and the carbon footprint to indulge your taste buds.
          I think they now ship all over the world, but nothing beats the ambiance of the open fire pit and the smells that engulf your senses.

          • Correction it seems AVAR’S only ships clam chowder– but they do have a great cookbook.
            Looks like you’ll just have to make the carbon intensive trip to sample their salmon entrees–SORRY.

    • MIKE MCHENRY – What’s the comparative impact?

      The impact on Greeness or The Climate Crisis?

      You might as well wonder what impact fish sticks have on Santa Clause or the moon.

      More to the point, stop buying into their bullshit.

      • I don’t buy the BS of alarmists. But if you are going to compare than wild caught vs fish farm is the appropriate,. I see it as a cost comparison

    • the fish are shipped to CHINA to be procesed cheaper than canadian/american plants, so its shipped there and back and might have some finishing work done to enable labelling to state processed in america canada to fool the consumer to think theyre supporting their own industry/workers. ie rolling in the crumbs(might also be imported) allows that claim, as does the final packing onshore

  2. Ever thought the real reason for these studies is to form a basis for carbon taxes in the near future? Fish sticks and fake crab is the only seafood many can afford or their kids will eat. Carbon taxes are regressive taxes on the poor that politicians can feel good about.

    • “Carbon taxes are regressive taxes on the poor that politicians can feel good about.”

      But the politicians will rebate some of the extra costs they created to the poor, which buys them votes they will really feel good about.

      Typical leftist program: create a problem, then develop another program to solve that problem. And then raise taxes again.

  3. just once could one of these asswipes be honest instead of pushing some anti USA bullcrap?

    It’s not possible that they study CO2 emissions….and not know it’s all coming from China and the developing world

  4. These climate crusaders are bonkers crazy, the way they fixate on such trivia, imagine if they ran the world they would have us all stop doing anything. People like this should be in straight jackets in asylums.

  5. Somebody is in favor of “bunker” fuel because it generates sulfur oxides and cools the atmosphere, but is againstCO2, which plants utilize to grow and liberate oxygen in the process, because, you know, well everybody knows (except those holocaust deniers) that CO2 is going to kill us all. Someday. Someday soon. Tipping point! I need a drink.

    • Exactly.

      “McKuin noted that sulfur oxides from ship fuels have a climate-cooling effect.”

      Show us your math Brandi. First, show us you know what math is.

      • If Mckuin is right about high-sulfur bunker fuel having a climate cooling effect, the problem they are worrying about is solved. We should equip lighthouses to burn high-sulfur bunker fuel for their illumination. Bunker-fuel powered lighthouses could save the world from over heating while saving ships from crashing on the rocks.

        SR

    • Exactly pt. 2!

      Here we are rushing to get cleaner fuels to the market, and then bam! That is now the problem.

  6. Anything from Eurekalert is dubious, even more so from a journal entitled Science of the Anthropocene ( the science of the non-existent)

  7. Salute!

    Actchally, the large “factory” boats are pretty good RE: carbon footprint.

    A “How It’s Made” or similar TV episode had a great expose of a large “factory boat” that caught them, cleaned them, canned them, cured them, etc. Very ‘clean compared to a few dozen small boats and their “footprint”.

    I was surprised at all the products made from the pollock, and they even used the remnants of cleaning the basic fish to make fish flakes for your aquarium. A few places here on the Gulf Coast also use the “old” shrimp, and restaurant peelings to grind and dehydrate for aquarium food.

    Neat article.

    Gums sends…

  8. Climate Forcing by Battered-and-breaded Fillets and Crab-flavored sticks from Alaska Pollock

    Seriously?!

    I’ve got a better one:

    Climate Exaggerating by Bloated-and-clueless Fools and Sciency-flavored shtick from Asperger Posers

    Harsh towards Greta, I suppose, but her parents allowed her to set herself up for such parody.

    • Or a study of-
      The climate impacts of two lefties talking BS while having a coffee in an inner city cafe.
      Needs to also include the impact on the little frogs when land was cleared for planting the Coffea trees centuries ago.

      • Nah. If they did that they would have to look at the impact on lizards, beetles, frogs, worms rabbits, etc when clearing land for solar farms. Never happen

  9. Open Access– “Uncertainty and sensitivity analysis–Carbon footprints come with large uncertainty in data and methods.” Maybe find another research “data-driven” subject!!!
    https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.1525/elementa.386/

    Another one from the 7 year old Journal of the Anthropocene— Special Feature: Impacts of Natural Versus Anthropogenic Oil Inputs on the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem
    https://collections.elementascience.org/impacts-of-natural-versus-anthropogenic-oil-inputs/

    “Over 20,000 natural oil and gas seeps exist across the Gulf system but few of these have been studied in depth and the impacts of natural oil and gas release on ecosystem structure and function are not well known [until we came along].” ZoBell, C. E., et al., 1943. Marine microorganisms which oxidize petroleum hydrocarbons. Bulletin American Association Petroleum Geologists. 27:1175-1193. More than a few studies since, some even before. Their input distinction ought to be interesting.

  10. Huge fishing industry in Alaska. Long transport to the lower 48. State has voted Republican every election except for one, pumps-out lots of oil (residents get money for it), etc…not hard to see them as a target.

  11. FROM THE STUDY:
    https://www.elementascience.org/article/10.1525/elementa.386/

    Uncertainty and sensitivity analysis

    Carbon footprints come with large uncertainty in data and methods. Although we included standard deviations for certain parameters (fishing phase inputs, BC and OC emissions from the combustion of marine fuels, and shipping GWPs), we lack uncertainty measures for many of the downstream inputs of the seafood supply chain. Because we lack uncertainty data for downstream inputs, we did not consider stochastic variability. However, we did consider a sensitivity analysis to better understand which model inputs have the largest impact on the results and which factors contribute most to the output variability (Text S3). Our sensitivity analysis included material and energy flow inputs (Text S3.1), alternative emission factors (Text S3.2 and Tables 18 and 19), and alternative GWPs for shipping exhaust pollutants (Text S3.3).

    In other words, we really don’t know a lot of stuff, but never mind this small detail — we will make critical recommendations based on our key ignorance anyway, because we trust our incomplete models more than we trust responsible policy research and common sense.

    Or did I read too fast and judge too quickly?

  12. The alarmists say climate change is happening because the world is heating dangerously and that heating is caused by the human emitted CO2. Where is the proof that our current weather is so different to the weather 30 years ago and does that constitute climate change? What are the definitions that describe this climate change. There are less cyclones yet we are told there are more. Droughts are more severe and more frequent so we are told yet the data says not so. So what is this climate change we are confronted with every day? The world’s temperature seems to be fairly stable yet we are told we are heating dangerously fast. That is a lie. We are told the heating causes climate change but neither are changing very much. When it is hotter in Australia it is cooler in the UK so the average barely moves. We are told that the warming is caused by the miniscule component of CO2 humans are contributing to the atmosphere but not by the additional CO2 coming from the oceans. However despite 30 years of government funding to biased scientists no direct link has been found but yet the claims persist. Thank God for Trump who at least is doing his bit to expose the fraud.

    • Lawrence, in the UK all climate change alarmism opposition has been banned from all tv and radio programs.

      Alarmists can appear on tv and radio and say whatever they like without fear of contradiction because there are no dissenting voices invited to partake and program presenters won’t even challenge them. Except Andrew Neil, that is.

      • Seems to me that this is the way that people know how to vote in the UK these days – but yet they’ll still double down. No wonder BoJo keeps letting them ply their garbage. They campaigned for Brexit without even knowing it. Stupid is as stupid does.

  13. They’re not Green or green, and they don’t have carbon-based feet or otherwise.

    That said… Pardon me, would you have any tartar sauce?

  14. I can add an other BS calculation. How many calories deliver the fish sticks? How many calories do you need for one mile of cycling? I bet the carbon footprint of cycling is bigger than a Mustang.
    What do these greens think? Should we live like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie?

  15. Wasn’t this a novel about Welsh fishermen? “How Green Were My Fish Sticks” – I think I had to read it in high school.

  16. Had Birds Eye fish fingers as we call them in the UK a couple of weeks ago made from pollock. Bloody horrible, so I binned the rest. I remember when fish fingers were made from cod and they were great.

    • I recall those too, a 70’s great dinner option. Not had anything like it since as we really don’t know, and I don’t trust, ingredient lists on mass produced food packaging.

      Cod is getting rare in the UK now sadly.

    • This is one of the reasons it pays to read WUWT. You learn new things all the time.
      I had no idea that fish had fingers.

    • Tom in Florida January 20, 2020 at 4:32 am

      This is one of the reasons it pays to read WUWT. You learn new things all the time.

      I had no idea that fish had fingers.

      ____________________________________

      Fish already have the equivalent of “fingers”.

      Land based mammals developed from marine fauna.

      Evolution tends to develop from “already existing” – the shortest way.
      ____________________________________

      “Do fish have fingers?

      Of course they don’t, but they do have the genetic machinery to make fingers — something that shows how similar fish are to modern mammals.

      DAVID GREENE, HOST: … And today Joe tells about research unveiling the evolutionary similarity between fish fins and mouse fingers.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=how+many+fingers+have+fish+fins&oq=how+many+fingers+have+fish+fins&aqs=chrome.

      ____________________________________

      Most mammals have 10 fingers + 10 toes. Symmetrical left/right up/down.

      NOT e.g. 7 + 13.5

  17. … transported on large container ships that burn copious amounts of fuel …

    … and they transport copious amounts of product. A ship can move one ton of freight 631 miles using one gallon of fuel. link It’s the most energy efficient transportation available.

    You have to be pretty innumerate and ignorant to slag ocean going ships.

  18. Imagine the screams of pain from these unhinged liberals if we really shut down all these industries and the liberals could not get their favorite products and services and luxuries, how they would caterwaul. AAHHGG!

  19. “transported on large container ships that burn copious amounts of fuel”

    Either way, the fuel is paid for. It it’s cheap, it uses very little of it.

    (Either that, of it’s a non price “price”: something that people are forced to produced or forced to integrate, for which there is no measurable price.)

  20. I’ve got ” 6 breaded chicken parmigiana patties with tomato sauce” heating in the oven.
    Apparently they now need a “spoon sauce over chicken”.
    Luckily, I haven’t been living in a trench for months at a time.
    It was only 100 years ago.

  21. No schist Sherlock- it takes energy to make food. Why do you think the farmers in Europe are so angry.

  22. Climate activists should be promoting a carbon free diet. It would fix the climate “emergency” very quickly

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

    I wonder what the greenhouse gas emissions would be for the jelly bean supply chain? The Dr Pepper supply chain?

    We need to look at the bigger picture. Our scientists need more grant money so they can study these things. CAGW is serious business!

  24. About the lead photo – Yuk!

    Are the little green things made in a mold?
    Maybe grown and picked by little old Amish women?
    Search for – – –
    Green Peas India Toxic Colouring agents

    • Don’t eat farmed salmon then. IMO, if you don’t grown or raise the food you eat you have no idea what is in it.

  25. Why can’t we get to the route of the problem.
    Cut the number of useless scientists and all that funding and only fund what may be of use to society.

  26. “These findings highlight the need to take a comprehensive approach to analyzing the climate impacts of the food sector.”

    No they don’t.

  27. As Rape seed oil is marketed as CANOLA, so is Pollack called Box Fish, and avoided at our table. Contrariwise, highly favored is Burbot fillets, by catch of Whitefish.

  28. “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. “These findings highlight the need to take a comprehensive approach to analyzing the climate impacts of the food sector.” – McKuin

    The climate impact of the food sector? Does McKuin know anything about the food on her plate, or is she so disconnected from reality that she can’t put 1 and 2 together and get 3? So maybe we should go back to using horse-drawn plows, planters and combines and do all that pastoral crap, including gleaning, portrayed in Monet’s paintings? The real impact of food production is that modern food production of any kind feeds an entire world. She should be kissing the ground farmers and fishermen walk on.

    I do have a great idea, but it will never happen: tell her if she wants food, she has grow it herself. Tell all those dimwitted, closed-minded Greenbeaners to do that. See just how long they last at it.

    The more I see of this kind of twaddle, the more I believe there is a cognizance disconnection between what they natter on about, and the reality of the subject they address, which they cannot accept.

    The STOOPID is truly strong with these people.

    • Isn’t the new mantra to “East Locally”

      New billboards for the US southwest:

      Tumbleweed – It’s what for dinner!

  29. Food is recycled carbon. Grass gets CO2 from atmosphere. Cow eats grass. Human eats cow and exhales CO2. It is called the carbon cycle and eating a natural part of carbon cycle in this planet.

    You can also do carbon capture and manufacture plastics or limestone.

  30. I DO NOT CARE. Pass the fish sticks and you researchers can all spend 20 years on fishing boats with no access to publishing. No one takes my fish sticks without great bodily injury.

  31. and what about the carbon footprint of calculating he carbon footprint of dinner….

    dilemna…

  32. The subtext here is that EAT-Lancet (WHO, guess who?) want Westerners to go plant-based and eliminate ALL bioavailable protein sources from their diet. They want a docile, infertile, emasculated, pharma-dependent and low-energy population who’ll be easily led into Agenda 30. The goal is to break down the physical basis of not only American wealthy, but of traditional American values like self-sufficiency, rugged can-do individualism, and demand for Liberty and personal responsibility for life choices.

    When you need the pills to stay alive, and Big Brother dispenses the pills, they’ve got you over their barrel.

  33. “Studies/papers” like this are the end products of giftless academics attempting to sustain a steady income. Any trivial BS can be transformed into something that “needs further research”.

  34. Tom in Florida January 20, 2020 at 4:32 am

    This is one of the reasons it pays to read WUWT. You learn new things all the time.

    I had no idea that fish had fingers.

    ____________________________________

    Fish already have the equivalent of “fingers”.

    Land based mammals developed from marine fauna.

    Evolution tends to develop from “already existing” – the shortest way.
    ____________________________________

    “Do fish have fingers?

    Of course they don’t, but they do have the genetic machinery to make fingers — something that shows how similar fish are to modern mammals.

    DAVID GREENE, HOST: … And today Joe tells about research unveiling the evolutionary similarity between fish fins and mouse fingers.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=how+many+fingers+have+fish+fins&oq=how+many+fingers+have+fish+fins&aqs=chrome.

    ____________________________________

    Most mammals have 10 fingers + 10 toes. Symmetrical left/right up/down.

    NOT e.g. 7 + 13.5

    https://www.google.com/search?q=symmetric+forming+of+a+fetus+by&oq=symmetric+forming+of+a+fetus+by&aqs=chrome.

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