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Marine fisheries currently play a role in food security and nutrition for more that 700 million people around the world, and a restored ocean could feed 1 billion people a seafood meal every day.

Feeding the world doesn't have to take such a heavy toll on the environment. When incorporated into a balance diet, wild seafood alleviates the demand for red meat and supplies a healthy source of protein and micronutrients.

There's no free lunch. The question is, what can the planet afford?

Of course, to reduce carbon footprints as much as possible, the best bet is to eat veggies. But among animal products, wild sustainable seafood is your best option.

Most people in the U.S. and other developed counties are high meat-eaters, consuming 1.5lbs per week. One high meat-eater replacing that meat with fish would save the emissions equivalent of about 6,000 miles driven over the course of a year.

Land based meat, specifically meat from ruminants, plays a hugely disproportionate role in deforestation since most of the world's soy is produced as feed for livestock. Demand for beef and other red meat is, by far, the largest driver of deforestation around the world.

In addition to being one of the healthiest and most carbon-efficient foods on the planet, wild-caught fish require no land, no freshwater, and involves far less animal cruelty compared to farmed animals.

Farmed seafood has similar impacts as land-based food, but is highly dependent on the kind of seafood being cultivated. Farmed bivalves, like oysters, mussels, and clams are extremely good for the environment. They are typically grown right offshore (requiring little to no boat fuel), require no freshwater, can be grown vertically using very little ocean space, and actually take carbon out of the environment as they grow.

Is aquaculture a solution to overfishing?

A recent study put it to the test and the answer, so far, is no. If the theory is true, then modeling should show that increased aquaculture production is correlated with decreases in wild catch. Instead, Longo et al. (2018) found that aquaculture has been supplementing - not suppressing wild fishery captures.

Aquaculture is the practice of farming fish under controlled conditions and includes both salt and freshwater species. It's the world's fastest-growing food production sector, generating around 44 per cent of the fish we consume; and yet, in order to sustain its growth, it's heavily reliant on the capture of wild-caught fish.

Over 69 per cent of wild-caught fishmeal and 75 per cent of wild-caught fish oil produced is fed directly to famed fish. We are literally catching fish, to feed fish!

Photo by WikiMedia user OgreBot

The most commonly farmed species is the Atlantic salmon, with around one million salmon meals eaten every day in Britain. But as every pound of farmed salmon consumes around three pounds of wild-caught fish, there are far more lives lost.

Fish used for animal feed

One-third of the world's ocean fish catch is ground up for animal feed, a potential problem for marine ecosystems and waste of a resource that could directly nourish humans.

The fish being used to feed pigs, chickens and farmed-raised fish are often thought of as bait, including anchovies, sardines, menhaden and other small - to medium sized species.

These so-called forage fish account for 37 per cent, or 31.5 million tons, of all fish taken from the world's oceans each year. Ninety percent of that catch is turned into fish meal or fish oil, most of which is used as agricultural and aqua cultural feed.

School of sardines at Panagsama beach, Moalboal, Philippines / Photo credit to Henry Jager

Fish are key to the survival of our planet as they play an important role in the nutrient cycles of marine ecosystems. Forage fish are near the base of the marine food web, nourishing larger fish, ocean-dwelling marine mammals and sea birds. Excessive removal of these small fish from the ocean environment could hurt the species that feed on them.

Aside from the potential ecological consequences, the taking of these large number of forage fish interferes with food security for humans. On average, it takes three to five pounds (1.36 to 2.27 kg) of fishmeal to produce one pound (0.45 kg) of farm-raised fish. If you are creating protein for humans to consume, does it make sense to take three to five pounds of perfectly good food and convert it into only one pound of food?

Most forage fish are high in omega 3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin D, calcium and other nutrients, it makes sense for humans to consume these fish directly rather than to feed them to livestock and farmed fish.

While fish-farming is presented as a solution to drive down overfishing, the reality is that it exacerbates the problem by its reliance on wild-caught fish and is therefore incapable of meeting current and projected demands for seafood.

Sustainable fishing helps to recover fish stocks

If you are an environmentally concerned person like me, you are probably wondering about the state of our oceans and their fish stocks. I have often wondered if global fish stocks are actually recovering or declining.

New research concludes that roughly 50% of the world’s oceans’ fish stocks are recovering, or already have recovered, and are now at proposed target rates. And it is all thanks to highly effective fisheries management methods.

The research report, published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), shows that efforts of sustainable fishing can yield awesome results and explains, in detail, just how powerful this fishing method can be.

If maximum catch quotas are kept, fish stocks seem to be able to recover fairly quickly and their numbers can virtually explode after only a couple of years. If you let them, fish will recover and be plentiful.

In the recent past, there have been many reports on ever-increasing levels of overfishing and decreasing fish stocks all over the world. At the same time, many large-scale fisheries management efforts have been put into place, in order to counteract this development. What’s especially positive is the fact that this shows how well scientists and fishermen can work together in order to bring about a sustainable fishing industry.

If there is a political and economic will, modern fisheries management efforts could restore many more fisheries and fish stocks.

Of course, it will take time, and many other factors (such as climate change) play an important role as well. But if we do not start to act and change things now, it might soon be too late to turn the tide!

Photo credit to Paul Hilton

Be a responsible consumer

There are ways to eat fish sustainably, ensuring that populations remain for the future. Choosing environmentally friendly seafood can be tricky as location plays a big role. It is therefor important to do your own research based on where you live, so you can make informed decisions about the fish you buy and enjoy seafood guilt free.

How to make sustainable, healthy fish choices:

  • Choose local or domestic seafood

  • Choose wild-caught (except oysters and clams)

  • If it's farmed, it must be from recirculating systems and their diet must consist of at least 50% alternative protein sources such as soybean meal.

  • Choose fish caught by hand line, hook and line (rod and reel), trolling (one or more fishing lines are drawn through the water behind a moving boat), or spearfishing. Trolling is often confused with trawling (a net is drawn through the water - bottom trawlers has devastating environmental impacts).

  • Avoid fish high in mercury, the bigger the fish, the more mercury it has.

Here's a list of fish you should keep off your plate, no matter where you live:

  • Lobster / Scampi (Langoustine)

  • Shrimp (Prawns)

  • Octopus

  • Caviar

  • Atlantic cod

  • Tuna (Pole and line caught Skipjack Tuna is sustainable)

  • Orange Roughy

  • King Crab

  • Atlantic Salmon (Wild caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon is sustainable)

  • Eel

  • Atlantic Halibut

  • Sea Bass

  • Sole

  • Mackerel

  • Shark, Skate and Rays

  • Swordfish

  • Tilefish

Australian Institute of Marine Science | Credit: LTMP

The ocean is important to all of us as a source of food. Fishing is the world’s greatest wild harvest. Estimates suggest that No Fish Zones over a third of our costal seas would be sufficient to provide us with all the fish we will ever need, and allow our oceans to recover and thrive once more.

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Climate change arguably presents the greatest threat to ocean health. It is making oceans hotter, promoting acidification, and making it harder to breathe in them by reducing dissolved oxygen levels. Imagine how poorly a fish in an aquarium would fare if we turned up the heat, dripped in acid, and pulled out the oxygen bubbler. This is slowly but surely what we are doing to our oceans.

Global warming is causing sea levels to rise, threatening coastal population centers. Many pesticides and nutrients used in agriculture end up in the coastal waters, resulting in oxygen depletion that kills marine plants and shellfish. Factories and industrial plants discharge sewage and other runoff into the oceans.

We can each reduce our own carbon footprint and help decelerate climate change by making smart choices about what we eat. With 7.6 billion people on the planet, these decisions add up.

Rising temperatures correlate almost exactly with the release of greenhouse gases.

Before the 18th century, when humans in the industrial west began to burn coal, oil and gas, our atmosphere typically contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Those are the conditions “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

Now, as the use of fossil fuels spreads through the world, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is skyrocketing — we’re now well over 415 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel companies are taking millions of years’ worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. In 2019, CO2 concentrations crossed 415 ppm in the atmosphere for the first time in at least 2.5 million years.

Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the most important step we can take to prevent further climate change.

Consequences of the way we eat on climate change

At the same time, the rapid growth in demand for animal-based agriculture by wealthier countries has seen other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide rapidly rise. The contribution of agriculture causes about 15% of global emissions.

Beef cattle wait in a feedlot in Medicine Park, Oklahoma on August 13, 2009.

Credit to USDA photo by Alice Welch.

The way we currently eat is damaging both humans and the planet. One might think that we cannot do a lot about this because we all need to eat food. But we could feed more people while drastically reducing emissions and land-use caused by food.

Soybeans at Harvest - Credit to the United Soybean Board

Animal products are especially harmful to our climate

So what is causing the environmental footprint of food to be so large? By rule of thumb animal products usually cause more greenhouse gasses than plants. This is because additionally to keeping the animals you also need to grow plants to feed them. This results in much higher emissions than just eating the plants directly. Every day forests are cut down to grow animal feed and create new grazing land. Beef and dairy products are especially bad for the climate because cows produce large amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kilocalories

Beef (beef herd) 36.44 kg

Beef (dairy herd) 12.2 kg

Fish (farmed) 7.61 kg

Cheese 6.17 kg

Pig meat 5.15 kg

Eggs 3.24 kg

Rice 1.21 kg

Oatmeal 0.95 kg

Potatoes 0.63 kg

Nuts 0.07 kg

As countries became more wealthy their meat consumption also increased drastically. According to research by Greenpeace the EU is currently spending around 71% of its farmland to feed livestock which is only possible because animal agriculture is subsidized with over € 28 billion per year.

Figures - uploaded by Somnath Mukherjee

Climate Change and Bio-Diversity Loss -Interrelated Phenomena (June 2019)

As seen in the graph above we can drastically lower the carbon footprint of food by eating a meat and dairy free diet. But even lowering meat and dairy products can have a great impact and at scale can be more effective than a few people going vegan. Currently a diet harmful to the climate is incentivized more than a climate friendly diet.

Average daily CO2e-emissions of different diets:

Meat lover: 7.19 kg CO2e / day

Low meat diet: 4.67 kg CO2e / day

Vegetarian: 3.81 kg CO2e / day

Vegan: 2.89 kg CO2e / day

Lab-grown meat could be a game changer

In addition to improving our current ways of producing food there are also some innovative and potentially game-changing solutions that think out of the box. One example that could have a huge impact is lab-grown meat.

Presentation of the world's first cultured hamburger at a news conference in London on 5 August 2013. The cultured meat product was developed by a team of scientists from Maastricht University led by Mark Post at a cost of €250,000.

Lab-grown meat is a real animal muscle being grown without having to grow the animal around it. While it sounds a bit weird at first producing it on large scale would allow us to stop wasting land and energy and forcing animals to grow up in horrible conditions while still being able to eat a product that is exactly the same as meat from an animal. Just recently the Singapore Food Agency was the first authority to approve a lab-grown meat product as safe for market While lab-grown meat will be much more expensive when it starts being sold (likely in 2021) the price will rapidly decrease as larger amounts are produced and more competition enters the market. According to GCFGlobal Lab grown meat is significantly more climate-friendly as it requires 45% less energy, 99% less land use, and produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

For more info on Lab grown meat you can listen to Bruce Friedrich podcast.

Plant based meat

“A few years ago, the base of most plant-based burgers was vegetables, oat, or beans. Now, with plant-based foods gaining more popularity, there are many more options. Two of the most popular brands, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, utilize pea protein or soy protein concentrate in their burgers, both of which closely mimic the texture and taste of real beef,” says Rhyan Geiger, RDN, a registered dietitian.

Alternative meats have skyrocketed in popularity due to a rise in overall awareness about meat’s impact on the environment and overall health.

If every American replaced all beef, chicken, and pork in their diet with a vegetarian option, that would save 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or roughly Ohio’s entire yearly emissions. Decreasing animal product consumption also prevents water scarcity as more than 50% of Americans’ freshwater use is for livestock production.

We need scalable solution to reduce emissions from food in time

Cultural change of behavior is called for, but we don’t have time to wait for it to happen. Making changes in our own personal life makes a difference. We can either continue to be part of the problem or choose to become part of the solution. We need to get active and support innovative climate solutions.

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Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Sometimes we have the tendency to focus only on the details that are in front of us, and we forget to see the bigger picture. The rapid decline of our forested land is not about losing a few trees here and there, but the major impact this is having on us and generations to come. Don’t just look at the tree but see the whole forest.

As we are aware, trees are crucial for sustaining life on Earth; unfortunately, our forests are being destroyed. It is estimated that 42 million acres of forested land in Asia, Africa and Latin America are being destroyed annually, along with it we lose over 135 species of plants and animals with the loss of their habitats.


One of the driving forces for deforestation, especially in the Amazon, is the animal agriculture sector. The livestock industry is reaching profits that are approximately 100 billion USD a year in America alone, sparking farmers around the globe to want in on the profit.

With increasing demand for meat, dairy and eggs over the last decade, it has increased the pressure on farmers to grow more crops to be used as feed for the livestock.

If this continues with our population growth along with the demand for more animal products, it is estimated that this will almost double the amount of crops we grow in the next 30 years; at the expense of our forests.

Forest destruction is caused by clearing forested lands and converting it into crops to grow feed for grazing, livestock and housing; even though the forested land may not be appropriate for farming. The negative effects of deforestation is increasing at an alarming rate globally. In the US, roughly 260 million acres+ of forested land has been cleared to make room for more crops, most of which will solely be used to grow feed for livestock.

Deforestation, Brazil - An aerial shot shows the contrast between forest and agricultural landscapes near Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil. Photo by Kate Evans/CIFOR

These crops could be used to feed people around the world. One thing I can do to make my carbon footprint on the world smaller is to reduce my intake of animal products. Imagine a world where everyone ate fewer animal products? Hard to believe, right? We could send those crops that would typically feed livestock directly to people who would otherwise starve.

Each year 70 billion farm animals are raised solely for our food. Intensive animal farming also known as Factory Farming is on the rise. This method of farming is to produce vast quantities in a short amount of time. Case closed, nothing else matters except profit. Whether it be the negative impact this farming method has on our ecosystem and environment, or the cruelty and poor living conditions these animals suffer on a daily basis.

While the undeniable truth remains that animal agriculture has increased the availability of animal products at more affordable prices, we cannot deny the fact that this is at the cost of our environment, our animals and our overall health.

Each person can make a difference in the fight to save our forested lands; now the question becomes, how do we do this?

It’s simple. Consumer power. As everyday consumers we have more power than the major corporations let on. If consumers demand change, then we take control of the market.

Cleared trees in a forest located in the concession of Karya Makmur Abadi, which is being developed for a palm oil plantation in Indonesia.

(Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images)

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