New Study Finds A Dirty Secret Behind ‘Sustainable’ Fishing


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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The “sustainable” fishing industry has a dirty secret, according to new research presented at a conference in San Francisco, Calif.

“Sustainable” fishing programs which ban the use of purse seining, or dragnets, actually use three times as much fuel now as they did 25 years ago, doctoral student Brandi McKuin with the University of California, Merced  told the New Scientist.

Fishing ships now must use methods like “troll and pole line fishing or longline fishing” that are comparatively less efficient than dragnets, according to the New Scientist. The methods indicated result in lower catch tallies per fishing trip, meaning that fishing boats must use more fuel and make more trips to increase their catches.

Extra trips use more fuel and consequently, produce more black carbon emissions. “Black carbon” is a pollutant and a large component of soot. Fine particles found in black carbon also absorb light, which McKuin says exacerbates global warming.

“If we’re including climate change in the sustainability criteria, it changes things,” McKuin told the New Scientist, referring to her study on global warming emissions from sustainable fishing.

McKuin’s study also “suggests that short-lived climate forcing may be particularly important in regions where fuel has a low sulfur content.” Sulfur is an aerosol emitted from fuel that reflects incoming light and can actually have a cooling effect on the climate.

Sulfur is also a pollutant, so environmental regulators in Europe, the U.S. and other developed countries have rules limited how much of it can be in fuel. McKuin’s work suggests a possible unintended consequence of limiting inclusion of sulfur in fuel is potentially more warming.

“These results have implications for proposed maritime policies and provide a foundation for future climate simulations to forecast climate change impacts in the Arctic,” McKuin wrote in her study.

McKuin also found that sustainable-caught tuna had more of a warming effect than any other land-based source of protein, except beef. Raising livestock is allegedly a major source of methane emissions.

“Sustainable” programs may prevent over-fishing, but the unintended consequence is more pollution and maybe more global warming, if McKuin’s findings are accurate.

Agriculture possibly represents a parallel case in unintended consequences where it concerns more sustainable approaches to growing. The organic, “buy local” movement sweeping America’s elite communities is supposedly better for the environment and healthier for people, but critics say these assumptions are incorrect.

There’s really no evidence organic food is any healthier than conventionally grown crops. A 2012 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reaches the same conclusion.

“[T]here isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you’re an adult and making a decision based solely on your health,” Dana Brevata, a Stanford University physician and one of the study’s lead authors, told USA Today.

Organic farming is also more resource-intensive, according to economists, because it uses “more of critical inputs — labor, land, and water — than conventional agriculture.” Organic farms often don’t take advantage of economies of scale, thus using more fuel, land, water and other resources in the process.

A 2015 study found organic farms are more greenhouse gas-intensive per acre than conventional farms.

“My analysis finds that the rise of certified organic production in the United States is not correlated with declines in greenhouse gas emissions derived specifically from agricultural production, and on the contrary is associated positively overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions,” doctoral student Julius McGee at the University of Oregon’s sociology department wrote in his study.

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