A recently released study from the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future concludes that 40-47 percent of U.S. seafood supply is lost or wasted.
Flounder and croaker caught in the nets of a shrimp trawler and thrown away, the uneaten portion of a wild salmon left on a restaurant plate and placed in the garbage, from catch to consumption, seafood is discarded and wasted.
Food loss and waste constitutes about 31 percent or 133 billion pounds of the overall food supply available to U.S. retailers and consumers. Seafood comprises a large portion of that amount.
In the U.S. and around the world, people are being advised to eat more seafood. But overfishing, climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and the use of fish for purposes other than human consumption threaten the global seafood supply.
“[T]he seafood that is wasted could conservatively provide the equivalent of the total yearly quantity of protein for 10.1 million men or 12.4 million women,” the Johns Hopkins’ study estimates.
The study comes at a time of heightened emphasis in the United States and other countries on reducing food waste and adopting sustainable development practices.
The recently released Johns Hopkins’ study concludes that “[seafood loss and waste] exacts a financial cost up and down the supply chain, and causes unnecessary losses to fisheries and other parts of our ecosystem needed for food security and our long-term survival.”
“If we’re told to eat significantly more seafood but the supply is severely threatened, it is critical and urgent to reduce waste of seafood,” David Love, PhD, said in a press release. Love, the study’s leader, is a researcher with the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture project at the Center for a Livable Future and an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Focusing on prevention strategies involving governments, businesses and consumers can reduce seafood loss and create a more efficient and sustainable seafood system, the study finds.
The Johns Hopkins’ researchers found the greatest portion of seafood loss, 51 to 63 percent, occurs at the consumer level with less, 16 to 32 percent, due to fishermen catching non-target fish – called “bycatch” – and 13 to 16 percent associated with distribution and retail operations.
The researchers offer several strategies to reduce seafood waste. They include “bycatch” limitations; greater transparency in duration and temperature exposure; clearly labelled indicators to reveal when fish has become unsafe; and smaller size product packages. The study also suggests that people could be encouraged to eat fish parts not commonly consumed – think fish head soup.
The Johns Hopkins’ study, “Wasted seafood in the United States: Quantifying loss from production to consumption and moving toward solutions,” by Dave C. Love, Jillian P. Fry, Michael C. Milli and Roni A. Neff, is published in the November 2015 issue of Global Environmental Change, a journal of Elsevier, an information-solutions company.
The study calculates seafood loss and waste, which includes fish and other seafood, based on predetermined loss ratios adopted from previous publications, including data from a 2011 United Nation’s study.
Analyzing various supply data, the Johns Hopkins’ study calculates seafood loss, including waste, at each stage of the supply chain through consumption.
With one exception, the calculation of associated nutrients lost, the researchers rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of food loss. Even though the Department of Agriculture defines food waste as a subset of food loss, the study uses the terms interchangeably for simplicity.
The study uses data from 2009-2013, which the researchers found to be the most reliable, recent five-year data period.
The researchers assume that 50 percent of the imported quantity of U.S. fish supply comes from wild catch and 50 percent from grown aquaculture, based on the fact that about half the seafood consumed globally comes from aquaculture. The assumption affects both the amount of bycatch and the resulting loss quantities.
The study’s estimated total 40–47 percent U.S. seafood supply lost is in-line with prior research.
The U.S. has staked out goals to reduce food waste.
Lost or wasted food adversely impacts public health, natural resources and climate change. Food loss and waste costs people and businesses in the U.S. about $161 billion, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Earlier this month, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a national food waste reduction goal – the first ever such goal – of 50 percent by 2030.
“Let’s feed people, not landfills,” EPA Administrator McCarthy said in a prepared statement released at the time of the recent announcement.
It is a world problem that other countries are tackling too.
A global effort to reduce food waste is part of a broader sustainable development initiative of the United Nations.
On Friday, the first day of a three-day sustainable development summit, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a new global agenda to end poverty by 2030 and to pursue a sustainable future.
“The new [U.N.] Sustainable Development goals may bring fresh energy to the effort to reduce seafood waste,” Roni Neff, one of the Johns Hopkins’ study authors, said in an e-mail.