Why shellfish has such a low environmental impact

Wondering which foods are best for an eco-friendly diet? In this article, Barry Crackett, from seafood brush manufacturer Brushtec, explains why shellfish is better for the planet than you may think.

The extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels, and recording breaking temperatures of the past decade have woken a lot of us up to the dangers of climate change. The issue is now at the top of many people’s agendas — in fact, more Brits are worried about the lasting impact that climate change will have on humanity than coronavirus (YouGov). And with almost a third of consumers using their wallets to protest against unsustainable products and brands, the pressure is mounting on farmers and food businesses to lower their environmental impact (Deloitte).

When deciding on which eco-friendly lifestyle changes to make, a lot of people opt for plant-based lifestyles. There’s no denying that this lifestyle has many environmental benefits, but it isn’t as eco-friendly as many of us first thought. For example, fruit and veg transported via plane can produce more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than poultry meat (BBC Future).

So, what should people add to their diets to make their lifestyles more eco-friendly? Well, as surprising as it may sound, shellfish one of the most sustainable foods, for the following reasons.

Eco-friendly farming

Whilst the aquaculture industry as a whole has been heavily criticised in recent years for being unsustainable, shellfish farming is actually beneficial for the environment. The emissions for shellfish farming are far lower than most other forms of farming, with one tonne of bivalve protein producing just 11 tonnes of emissions (Nature Food). To put this into perspective, one tonne of edible beef produces a whopping 340 tonnes of emissions (ResearchGate).

Shellfish don’t require artificial foods, as the nutrients they need are naturally found in their own environment. This means that farmers aren’t forced to pollute the sea with the artificial, chemical-filled food that’s common in other forms of fish farming. And harvesting shellfish can even improve the quality of the seabed, as it displaces dirt and improves oxygen circulation.

Keeping the sea clean

Shellfish really are remarkable creatures that do wonders for the environment around them. Take oysters, for example. They can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day (Oceanus)! They do so by moving water in and out of their gills, and consuming the solid debris they find. On top of this, they capture the excess carbon dioxide that ends up being absorbed in the sea from the atmosphere, to stop it from polluting the waterways.

Benefits for the ecosystem

Although they may be small, shellfish have a mighty impact on the ocean ecosystem. Their hard shells create a base which allows other organisms to thrive. For example, algae can attach to mussels, which provides food for other sea creatures.

Oyster reefs are also vital for biodiversity, as other animals can use them to lay their eggs. But as well as helping other creatures thrive, they prevent them from dominating the waters. For example, oysters absorb excess nitrogen in their environment, which would otherwise harm the ecosystem by causing an overproduction of algae.

Helping developing nations

As well as improving the environment of our waterways, shellfish farming can benefit humans directly. An increase in shellfish farming will lead to more job opportunities in developing countries. And as harvesting bivalves is one of the most sustainable forms of farming, it means that these jobs will be secure, as the shellfish will not be at risk of becoming endangered if harvested responsibly.

More stable jobs means more money is generated for the economy, which can in turn be invested in protecting the environment and creating even more sustainable jobs.

The future of shellfish

There is so much untapped potential in bivalve farming; it’s only a matter of time before the shellfish industry explodes. Shellfish are some the most sustainable animal products for consumption, so they can easily satisfy the consumer desire for eco-friendly food.

Fortunately, it appears that positive changes are already underway in the UK. The UK’s first offshore mussel farm aims to produce 10,000 tonnes of mussels annually, and it has won the approval of farmers, as the mussels have improved the ecosystem which has led to a boom in other sea creatures (Positive.News). Whilst shellfish dishes aren’t currently a nationwide favourite, it won’t be long before the tide turns.

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