The emissions/biodiversity dilemma: a troubling trade-off in aquaculture feeds
This article is the first in a three-part series that presents the main findings and trends that emerged from the Phase 2 Report on Oceans and Biodiversity Impacts.
The main emphasis is on the fact that, although the aquaculture industry and aquaculture feed producers have shown a admirable commitment to reducing their greenhouse gas emissionsthey must also address their impacts on biodiversity – both on land and at sea.
Food Ingredient Sourcing Trends
In 2022 the FAIRR initiative engaged eight of the world’s largest salmon producers on their respective feeding strategies and their approach to the range of biodiversity and climate risks posed by aquaculture feed ingredients.
The meetings highlighted that aquaculture businesses have a strong focus on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, they do not focus on a comprehensive analysis of their ESG risks and the use of a nature-based approach.
A careful examination of the carbon reporting of these companies shows that the efforts to reduce emissions largely fall within scopes 1 and 2 – i.e. relating to direct and energy-related emissions – via projects such as such as the electrification of supply barges and the switch to renewable energy at processing facilities. Yet Scope 1 and 2 emissions typically account for less than 40% of a company’s emissions, with the rest falling in Scope 3 – primarily through the supply of animal feed and the transport of finished products. This inconsistent approach risks undermining the efforts of companies and investors to meet emission reduction targets.
Five of the eight companies said GHG emissions are a top priority, with four vgoals erified under the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Despite this, when asked about the risks involved in producing and sourcing animal feed, none of the companies presented a nature-based approach to reducing both their GHG emissions and their biodiversity footprint. .
The focus on reducing emissions associated with feed is manifested in the trade-off between the inclusion of fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) and soy protein in salmon feeds. Soy protein, the majority of which comes from Latin America, has a high carbon footprint linked to the deforestation often associated with its production. FMFO, however, has a lower carbon footprintbased on current estimates
However, rating food ingredients on their emissions does not take into account the inherent biodiversity risks associated with FMFO sourcing. Forage fish, from which FMFO comes, play a vital role in maintaining the health of the oceans. Damage to their populations can ripple through trophic levels and impact other high-value fish stocks, such as tuna, as well as endangered and protected species. Additionally, 21 percent (2.1 million tonnes) of total FMFO catch comes from poorly managed fisheries.
Companies have readily cited the certification of marine ingredients as a silver bullet, removing the risk of biodiversity from their food, however, this reasoning is not shared by the certification bodies themselves, as these organizations do not claim that the certification limits impacts on biodiversity, only management of specific stocks. Although certification is a useful tool to increase investor confidencethe standards on which it is based do not necessarily cover all aspects of biodiversity impacts associated with fishing methods such as trawling, dredging and lost gear.
The method of capture used must be taken into account when assessing the risk of these ingredients as it is often a determining factor in the impact of fishing on biodiversity due to the damage it can cause to communities and marine habitats. There is also an urgent need to quantify the potential emissions that result from sediment disturbances related to fishing activity and the method of capture with the The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says this could impact emissions, which could harm current carbon accounting as scientific understanding increases.
Another dimension of the emissions-biodiversity trade-off at play is the increase in soybean prices in recent months, while fishmeal prices have remained reasonably stable (see charts above). This incentivizes millers to switch from soybeans to fishmeal, thereby shifting the ecological load offshore and into our oceans. With the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD)* which is expected to unveil its risk management and disclosure framework at the end of 2023, this compromise is already of considerable importance, with organizations being required to disclose both how nature affects them and how they affect nature.
Companies need to take a holistic view of the risks and impacts posed by their choice of food ingredients. While focusing on reducing emissions has its benefits, it does not solve the issues of impact on biodiversity, a fundamental element in preserving the long-term productivity of the marine systems on which these companies heavily depend.
*As the nature equivalent to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the TNFD is intended to improve the disclosure of nature-related risks for investors, marking an important step to integrate climate-related risks. nature in financial decision making. , which has already been endorsed by the G7 and the G20. The TNFD should also incorporate the concept of “dual materiality” more into its work than the TCFD, as organizations will disclose how nature impacts them and how organizations impact nature.