Do we know how much fish we eat?

by: Andre Lopes

The GAIN project found that some of the most popular seafood’s in Europe appear to have a higher consumption than that reported in official statistics. The report, based on seafood demand data, focused on ten European countries and a large number of seafood products.

In addition to demand data, new supply statistics were considered to include other sources of seafood, including subsistence and illegal fishing. This showed that for cod, salmon, or tuna, consumption may be higher than previously estimated.

We found that salmon, the most consumed farmed aquatic product in the EU, appears to have a consumption of 2.21 kg per capita, significantly higher than the 1.30 kg per capita estimates based on supply data. This means that each European consumer appears to eat almost one extra kg each year of salmon unaccounted for in official statistics. Although an extra 900 grams of salmon eaten annually by each person only corresponds to an extra meal every two months, if this gap is scaled up to the European population the numbers are of concern.

Similar numbers were determined for tuna, cod, trout, and other common seafood products. Total consumption of seafood in Europe could be as much as 4.3 kg per capita for farmed products and 8.9 kg per capita for wild-caught products.

Taken on aggregate, the mass balance gap for aquatic products, i.e. from fisheries and aquaculture combined, means that as much as one million metric tons per year of seafood could end up on European plates without being recorded in official statistics.

The most likely reason for this substantial discrepancy between supply and demand data are flaws in the datasets—collectively, this introduces substantial uncertainties for policy outcomes. The GAIN project makes a number of suggestions for improvements in this critical area—without good data, there are no good decisions.

By the way, how much is the fish?*

By Cornelia Kreiss:

To produce a good seafood product according to ecological, welfare and human health aspects we also have to consider the economic side of the coin. The use of sustainable alternative feed, close monitoring of the production conditions or the valorisation of side-stream products is beneficial for a more sustainable production, but will also come at a cost. How high is this cost? Which production benefit or who (the consumer?) will compensate for these costs? What about the whole sector impact?

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These are very important questions for farmers and the seafood industry in general, which we seek to answer within GAIN. In order to do this on farm-scale we use a so-called “typical farm approach” implemented by the agri benchmark network headed by the Thünen Institute in Germany. This is a micro-economic tool which allows to portray the typical production of a farmed species according to real costs, techniques and other inputs: all of it in great detail. In the end we can estimate, which market returns per kg fish should be achieved in order to stay (as) profitable (as before)!

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Sustainable production methods themselves already benefit the farmer, resulting in better quality fish that needs less feed to grow to the same size, or achieving higher water quality which might also allow for higher stocking densities. However, such benefits do not always outweigh the full costs that adaptations towards sustainable production might involve. As long as follow-up costs of environmental impacts are not part of the market price (which is admittedly not an easy task to determine!), price differences are at the expense of sustainable products and need a transparent justification.

Originating from Germany, where public awareness and willingness to pay for more sustainable seafood products is higher than in other countries, I am convinced that a good market transparency is the way forward and I am excited to be part of this aim in combination with more sustainable seafood production within GAIN.

*The fish bought by the electro trashers band “Scooter” in the 1990’s and being the name giver for their song “How much is the fish”, cost 3.80 Deutsche Mark and supposedly lived for at least 18 years, which seems to be a quite good deal!

GoodFish

By: André Lopes

As consumers what do we look for in our food? Something tasty, that we like, want and are able to find in our towns and cities. We look for healthy options, at least as far as we are able or willing to go. Fish – or shellfish – either farmed or wild mostly fits such criteria, especially when compared to other available animal protein sources.

We also want safe seafood, which is nowadays commonly available at most supermarkets, fish markets and even online. For most consumers on top of these considerations is the most important factor: cost. A fish that would check all of these boxes at a reasonable price, could be considered to be a GoodFish.

Although these aspects shape our choices, other considerations have entered our plates recently: now we also want our fish to be fed, grown, processed and transported sustainably – in its three-pronged meaning: ecological, social and economic.

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Inside each of these three aspects of sustainability resides a multitude of components which include genuine concerns such as animal welfare, gender equality, environmental protection and waste reduction objectives which fuel the implementation of circular economy principles.

Coupled with these recent requests (and partially originated by them) also stems a demand for higher trust in the food we purchase, hence the growth in innovative technologies who enable companies to increase the traceability and transparency of their supply chains, and empower us, consumers, (ideally) to also bask in the benefits of such tools. Shortly: we want to know more about what we eat so we can shape our consumption knowingly.

On the other side of this “coin” we have: 1. Regulators seeking to create conditions that promote sustainable practices; and 2. The seafood industry, who keeps providing an ever-increasing amount of fish and shellfish to our plates, while providing livelihoods to millions of people.

In order to figure out how to breed higher quantities of fish with less environmental impacts, while not trampling over animal welfare or human rights, could be (in fact is) a tough, reachable and critical task. That is why innovations stemming from science and businesses that can help us reach these goals will play a role. In working together and combining them we can reach that sweet spot: a GoodFish.