Scottish mackerel and herring - a low carbon footprint food resource

Scottish mackerel and herring - a low carbon footprint food resource

By Ian Gatt, chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group

The recently published report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made grim reading with UN chief Antonio Guterres describing the warning as a ‘code red for humanity’.

He warned that the world must ‘wake up’ and act on climate change following the report which warned that a target of limiting global warming to 1.5C will be breached within two decades. Measures that must urgently be adopted and a framework for change will very much be the focus of the forthcoming Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.

One area that will inevitably come under the spotlight is food production, with the report including a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption. Whether that is desirable or will ever be achieved is for others to debate, but what is certain is that there are other forms of protein production that have much less impact on climate.

This includes Scotland’s pelagic fisheries for species such as mackerel and herring,. with a recent study confirming that they have a low carbon footprint compared to other types of food production, making them a good food choice for the environmentally conscious consumer.

This study “The environmental impacts of pelagic fish caught by Scottish vessels” was carried out by Frances Sandison as part of her PhD studies and funded by the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group, Shetland Islands Council, University of Aberdeen, University of the Highlands and Islands, and Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation.

Her study found that Scottish-caught pelagic fish have a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact when compared to other seafood products. This includes UK farmed salmon, which is 7.2 times higher than Scottish caught pelagic fish.

To put this into context, seafood production in general has a much lower carbon footprint than land-based meat production, especially from ruminants. Other research indicates that pelagic fisheries have a lower carbon footprint than many plant protein sources.

This confirms that sustainably managed Scottish pelagic fish represents a climate smart food source that helps deliver targets for achieving net zero carbon. Of course, Scotland’s mackerel and herring fisheries deliver other environmental benefits, for example the fish are caught in mid-water trawls which have no contact with the seabed.

Some environmentalists have long criticised Scotland’s pelagic sector because the boats that participate in the fishery are much larger than traditional fishing craft. However, these vessels are all family owned and crewed by local people. The pelagic fleet is also very modern, using the most efficient engines and refrigeration systems to reduce emissions. Thus, a relatively small number of state-of-the-art vessels catching herring and mackerel for only a few weeks in the year is a much more environmentally friendly option than having numerous small craft plying our waters in a bid to attain the same national catch levels.

Scottish fishermen have invested heavily in modern vessels and fish handling systems, and processors in the latest equipment, to ensure a high quality, low carbon footprint product that can be delivered to market in the most efficient manner.

Where possible, our fishers will look to do more to reduce their environmental impact, including enhancing fuel efficiency through innovations in vessel design and fishing practices.

Add to this the fact the mackerel and herring are tasty and highly nutritious and a valuable source of minerals, vitamins and hearty-healthy Omega-3, then it is clear that we should all be eating more pelagic fish.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlights that change in our lifestyles must be brought about. Scotland’s fishermen are proud that the food they put on our plates already has a low carbon footprint and will strive to further reduce emissions over the coming ye