‘Bluewashing’ Seafood Won’t Make the World Greener


Marine fauna is in a global state of emergency. Ninety percent of fish populations are at or below half of their historical levels, and more fish species are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species than any other class of animals. Since 1970 alone, global populations of sharks and rays have declined by more than 70 percent. The vaquita porpoise will be extinct in a few years, followed closely by the Māui dolphin and the North Atlantic right whale. The main driver of this aquatic extinction crisis is not climate change or plastic pollution, but fishing.

Recently, however, calls have emerged not for less fishing, but for Following, under the banner of a new term encompassing all seafood and aquaculture products: “blue food”. The Blue Food Alliance, launched ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit, brought together academics, policy makers and corporate donors focused on increasing the consumption of sustainable seafood. The project was presented with great fanfare, including a series of articles in the journal Natural food, an editorial in his parent magazine Nature, a number of well-placed opinion pieces by leading academics and industry members, and even a promotional video. According to the group’s report, titled “The Blue Food Assessment,” seafood and aquaculture often have a lower environmental impact and offer greater nutritional benefits than land-based foods while contributing to food security, which makes them economically and environmentally sustainable.

But this blue food narrative rests on generalizations and omissions that cloud the facts about seafood impacts. Just as harmful industries such as Big Oil and Big Livestock have promoted superficial adjustments in production and embraced the language of sustainability, the seafood industry has done it too. While the Blue Food Alliance counts sustainability nonprofits like EAT among its members, it also includes seafood titans like the Walton Family Foundation. While countless unsustainable industries claim to be going green, public messages about blue foods carry all the hallmarks of a brand pivot – call it a “bluewash.”

It’s not that the message of this campaign and others like it is based on bad science, is that they are making scientific claims selectively. In doing so, “The Blue Food Assessment” omits many of the harms of fishing and fish farming, and makes it appear much more sustainable than it actually is. Consider the idea that consuming seafood is generally more environmentally friendly than eating land-based meat. To support this, the authors use sustainability measures from previous studies to assess greenhouse gas, nitrogen, and phosphorus emissions, as well as land and freshwater use, of various commodities. of the sea and aquaculture. This leads to the conclusion that the environmental impacts of these foods are lower than those of many agricultural products, in particular chicken, the industrially raised meat that has the least impact on the environment. The problem is, this is a comparison of apples to oranges – it applies criteria designed for land-based agriculture to the oceans, while omitting environmental impacts specific to marine life. Eating wild fish may use virtually no land or freshwater, but it also depletes populations of marine life, disrupts food webs, drags reefs and algae beds, and litter the ocean with ghost nets. The report is equally selective in its discussion of the health benefits of seafood. Fish can be rich in various dietary vitamins and minerals, but it can also be loaded with microplastics and bioaccumulative toxins such as PCBs, PBDEs, and mercury. While these various shortcomings are recognized in some of the Blue Food manuscripts, they are virtually absent from promotional material, overstating the benefits of blue food while downplaying its shortcomings.

Beyond the specific allegations, the nomenclature of this campaign is also worrying. While the grouping of all marine foods into the new category of “blue foods” does little to facilitate comparison with other food groups, it does a lot to amalgamate species and region specific impact assessments. For example, while advocates boast that “the BFA assessment emphasizes the enormous diversity of blue foods”, the data is actually quite vague, with wide margins of error and broad categorizations like ” various marine fish ”. Even more problematic, this tactic also masks the different producers and production processes within the seafood industry. On the one hand, while he does not explicitly advocate the expansion of industrial fishing, he is enthusiastic. about the growth of industrialized forms of fish production such as aquaculture. But aquaculture doesn’t relieve wild fisheries as much as it complements them, often requiring hundreds of wild-caught baitfish to feed a single farmed salmon or tuna. It also carries a series of risks and damages, including pollution from effluents, deforestation of mangroves and viral proliferation both in aquaculture farms and spreading to wild fish. Yet “The Blue Food Assessment” recommends expanding aquaculture despite these risks.

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