Calculating the Enormous Carbon Footprint
of New York State’s Imported Seafood
As the number of people on the planet gets close to passing 8 billion, the huge amount of food we produce and consume is having an impact on environments around the world. When it comes to climate change, food production accounts for a quarter of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Though wild seafood contributes dramatically less carbon emissions than other industries like industrial beef production, there are aspects of seafood supply chains that need to be addressed. One secretive and often willfully ignored aspect of the global seafood marketplace is the carbon intensive reality of transportation.
Sustainability snapshot: The carbon footprint of seafood imports into New York state
90% of seafood sold in New York State is imported. Even though there are abundant and well-managed fish stocks just off the coast, a staggering amount is brought in from distant, out-of-state locations. This means there is an enormous carbon footprint associated with most of the seafood eaten in New York.
Dock to Dish Montauk has set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2022 and is currently working with our partners at GreenWave and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University on creating New York State’s first inshore network of restorative carbon-sequestering kelp farms that are designed to pull carbon from the atmosphere at a rate that is five times more aggressive than land based plants.
This isn’t just an issue in New York but a worldwide trend where each year seafood is being sourced further and further from where it is consumed. This is a problem because the carbon footprint of seafood increases substantially for products that are flown fresh by air – as a lot of seafood is. Using the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch transport calculator, we estimated the carbon footprint of different types of seafood being flown in from locations around the world. What we found was that even seafood that is labeled and marketed as being caught or grown responsibly, becomes decidedly unsustainable in the era of climate change when it is packed on airplanes and shipped great distances by air freight.
So where do you start if you want to decrease your seafood footprint? One way is to buy seafood that is truly locally-sourced. Dock to Dish was recently named the first wild seafood operation to gain the New York State Grown and Certified label. That means that 100% of our seafood is caught locally, shipped locally and eaten locally – all to say that it has a relatively low carbon footprint.
An incredible resource to help you cut through the greenwash and find locally-sourced fish is Localcatch.org and their Seafood Finder. Using this tool, you can sort by the type of organization, like dock pick-up or farmer’s markets, and by core values, like community-based fisheries, honoring the ocean, or more.
In a time when there is a lot of concern about the environment and where an individual can feel like an insignificant part of the equation – this is where your choices can make a real impact. Whether you’re a chef who decides to source locally and reduce the carbon footprint of your menu or a customer who actively searches for restaurants serving Dock to Dish fish – you can send a message: reduce your carbon footprint, eat local fish.
New York State Department of Agricultural and Markets
Dock to Dish is the first wild fishery operation in history to qualify and participate in the New York State Grown and Certified Program which recognizes authentic operations with the highest commitments to food safety and environmental stewardship. Upon entry in 2019, Elise Gilchrist, Dock to Dish Director of Communications, said, “This important certification for wild seafood is a major step forward for New York State’s fishing communities and enables consumers to identify truly local, traceable and sustainable products that are caught responsibly and in full compliance with the law. We have worked for many years with the Department of Agriculture to highlight the high quality and low carbon footprint of New York’s abundant wild seafood resources, to identify and prevent seafood fraud and mislabeling, and to strengthen the marketplace for New York’s commercial fishers and their families. We are honored to be the first wild seafood operation in the state to participate and be certified, and we are grateful to the Department for their work to bring wild seafood into the NYS Grown & Certified program. This initiative is yet another example of New York State leading the way and setting an example for the rest of the country.