The seafood industry causes less environmental impact than other food production sectors, claims a report. (Photo: NZ Seafood Industry Council)
Report rating seafood the 'green protein' draws criticism
Thursday, February 16, 2012, 02:20 (GMT + 9)
A report on the environmental impact of New Zealand food production has rated the country's seafood as a ‘green protein.’ But a conservation group has serious reservations about the report and believes it overlooks the deaths of thousands of animals caught as by-catch every year by the fishing industry.
The report, called The Environmental Cost of New Zealand Food Production, measures the environmental effects of harvesting wild fisheries. Researchers found that fishing has fewer impacts than the production of alternative forms of animal protein such as dairy and meat, according to the Seafood Industry Council.
“This report looks at all the studies we could find on the environmental impacts of New Zealand fish, dairy and meat production to either the farm gate or the dock and the results are readily apparent; wild fisheries simply do not impact the environment in many ways”, report author and Professor Ray Hilborn said.
Hilborn heads the school of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington and has a long association with the NZ seafood industry and government departments, The Nelson Mail reports.
He also commented that even though all animal protein production has some environmental effect, any changes caused by harvesting the marine environment are significantly lower than those stemming from land-based production, and that the changes are not permanent. While fishing cuts abundance of fish by up to 70 per cent and affects diversity of species, land farming cuts species numbers by 70-80 per cent.
“Marine ecosystems have not been modified anywhere near the same extent as those on land. The potential recovery time of marine ecosystems to their pre-harvested state is far less than the recovery time for forest ecosystems converted to agriculture”, he explained.
But Marine Conservation Advocate Katrina Subedar is not convinced.
"This report is extremely weak and very thin on key New Zealand references. The most obvious omission in the council's report is by-catch in the New Zealand fishing industry", she asserted.
"It's nonsense to produce a report that claims commercial fisheries are environmentally sustainable, and yet fail to mention the thousands of seabirds, hundreds of New Zealand sea lions and dolphins that are killed every year by fishing", she added.
The report also noted that the nutrients generated during the production of protein on land pose significant adverse environmental impacts, particularly on waterways, when compared to the effects from nutrients on oceans generated in the harvest of seafood.
“In harvesting seafood there is no significant use of fresh water, fertiliser, pesticides or antibiotics”, Hilborn noted.
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