A Carbon Fish Tale
Quick: Which fish has a smaller carbon footprint: yellowfin or barramundi? What about halibut or salmon? Oysters or clams?
Those are questions that even the most earnest chef would probably have a hard time answering. Even if he could know, just keeping track would be a full-time job.
Chefs have plenty of other things to do. And so at their behest, Washington-based seafood distributor ProFish soon will unveil a rating system that helps chefs compare the environmental impacts of popular fish from sea to table. The program, called Carbon Fishprint, gives each fish a score based on whether it was farmed or wild, how it was caught, the amount of energy used in harvesting and shipping. That yellowfin? Its Fishprint is 40 compared with farmed barramundi's score of 15. (The lower the score, the more environmentally friendly the fish.)
The Fishprint system, which took six months to develop, first looks at the methods of fishing; almost 90 percent of the carbon expended comes during the catch, according to John Rorapaugh, ProFish's director of sustainability. So if, say, you use a seine net, also called a surround net, stretched between two boats, that would get a score of 10. A stationary crab pot, in contrast, would get just five. The two boats require more petrol to take out to sea and to fish than the pot, which needs to be checked by one boat once every day or two.
It also looks at how much energy was used to process the fish, whether it's been cut up into fillets or raised in a fish farm that uses electricity to pump water through its tanks. The delivery method also can affect scores considerably. Cross-country air shipping counts for 22 points, vs. three points for trucking within 500 miles, for example.
ProFish doesn't intend that chefs choose a fish based exclusively on its Fishprint. There are myriad other issues to consider: Is the fishery managed sustainably? Does it make sense to farm popular fish such as bluefin tuna, which must be fed at least seven pounds of smaller fish to produce just one pound? But it is one more bit of information that can help chefs make good decisions.
Sustainability experts commend ProFish's initiative but caution that it will take time to develop rigorous scientific ratings. "If it weren't for their efforts to collect the information and talk about these issues, there would be less urgency for academics to come up with a framework and make sure it has a great deal of integrity," says Helene York, sustainability director for food service company Bon Appetit Management, which is a ProFish client. "Do they have it all sewed up yet? No. But nobody does. It's a good start."
ProFish plans to put all the Carbon Fishprint scores on its Web site beginning Monday, June 22.
June 18, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: Sustainable Food | Tags: Jane Black, seafood
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