Could salmon become the protein with the lowest carbon footprint?

Climate change is quickly becoming one of the world's most pressing issues and carbon emissions are one of the largest contributing factors to climate change. Making changes to your diet is one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions and live a more sustainable lifestyle. Salmon is a great source of protein low in carbon emissions, however, modern technologies offer the salmon industry the opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint even further and become the most environmentally friendly source of animal protein.


What is Carbon Footprint?  

Carbon footprint is one of many metrics that is used to evaluate and measure the environmental impact humans have on the planet. Carbon footprint measures the amount of carbon dioxide (Co 2) and greenhouse gas emissions that results from the activities of a person, event or organisation.

Co 2 emission released into the atmosphere acts as a blanket that traps heat radiated by the sun and our planet's surface, releasing it back into the atmosphere. This phenomenon threatens to increase the planets average surface temperature, significantly contributing to the climate crisis.

The majority of carbon emissions are direct results from human activities. Activities in your day-to-day life, such as driving your car to work or using the heater will leave a small footprint behind. This means there are many steps we can take as individuals to reduce our own carbon profile, such as switching to lower carbon diets.


Why are carbon emissions a problem? 

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, significantly affecting global warming and climate change. Since the mid-1800s, concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen by more than 40% which has been largely attributed to the industrial revolution that popularized the burning of fossil fuels for power.

Human activities continue to introduce large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, disrupting the natural balance of the earth’s temperature. As a result, we are seeing the effects of climate change, such as shrinking glaciers and rising sea levels, at an accelerated rate.

If emissions continue at the current rate, the earth's surface temperature could rise to dangerous levels, leading to increased biodiversity loss, reduced air quality, food insecurity and other negative consequences.


What is salmon’s carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint is normally measured in Co 2 equivalent, a unit of measurement that is used to standardise the climate effects of various greenhouse gases. Comparatively, the farmed fish industries carbon footprint is low when compared to other farmed animals.

Source: Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018): Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers (Science)

Consumers have started placing greater emphasis on their personal carbon footprint when purchasing products. Choosing low carbon diet options is one of the best ways to lower individual carbon emissions and as a result, the salmon industry has continually invested in resource to lower carbon equivalent and work towards becoming the first net zero protein producers.       


Does location affect carbon footprint?

Carbon emissions are a global problem, and every country has a different approach to addressing the issue. This means that farmed salmon’s carbon footprint can vary greatly depending on where it originates from, and which mode of transport is used. For example: transporting salmon products from Norway to the USA by air will quadruple the carbon footprint when compared to transporting to France by truck.

While several factors in each region can influence the total carbon footprint, different rules and regulations implemented by each country has a significant impact. For instance, in Chile and Australia, the ability to use a wider range of circular ingredients has resulted in a lower average carbon footprint than in other regions. This presents one of the major challenges feed companies face when trying to reduce the carbon footprint of our feed, as every region needs a customized approach depending on the rules in place.


Why feed is the answer to reducing salmon’s footprint.

Feed accounts for approximately 80% of the carbon footprint in the production process of salmon. Any minor change in feed can have a large impact on the carbon footprint total of farmed salmon. For example, over the past decade the salmon industry has focused on reducing marine content in feed, which has resulted in diets consisting of predominantly plant-based ingredients. This had the consequence of increasing the carbon footprint of the industry as vegetable ingredients have higher carbon totals than marine ingredients.

The increase of plant-based ingredients has presented a new set of challenges for the salmon sector, such as reducing the carbon footprint without increasing the amount of marine content in feed. Achieving such goals first starts with feed, and for any salmon farming company looking to reduce their carbon footprint, the best place to start is by working in partnership with their feed supplier.


With demand for carbon friendly options increasing, we have seen the salmon industry continually invest in resources to help address the major challenges the salmon industry face and further reducing the industries carbon footprint. As feed represents the largest source of carbon in salmon value chain, working in partnership with your feed supplier is the best place to start your journey towards net zero today.