Researching ways to improve sustainability and reduce waste in the seafood industry

February 09, 2021

Nutritionists have been touting the health benefits of seafood for years. Dietary guidelines recommend that the average adult get at least two servings of seafood per week. But the push to increase our consumption of seafood can put a strain on the seafood industry and create more waste.

"Many fisheries are fully or overexploited," said Lekelia "Kiki" Jenkins, an associate professor at Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society in the College of Global Futures. "We are pushing our fisheries to the brink that they can sustain. Meanwhile, consumers are wasting nearly half of the fish they buy. We need to understand our waste behaviors and put a mechanism into place so that we use what we catch."

Jenkins is researching ways to improve sustainability in the seafood industry by conducting a case study on SmartFish, a group that works to improve the social and environmental future of artisanal fishing in Mexico by creating new markets for sustainable seafood and rewarding fishers for sustainable practices. Jenkins will present her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting.

"We're looking at how we can use market incentives to try to reduce waste," said Jenkins. "While SmartFish doesn't explicitly look at waste, we thought their approach might be a way to reduce waste."

The research found points of waste reduction regarding sea life and fish, but the model also introduced other points of waste that didn't exist before, including plastic packaging. Jenkins believes those points of waste need to be addressed but were small compared to how the model improved sustainability.

"The overall benefit of their model seemed markably higher than the small points of introduced waste, but it's something to be aware of so that it can be reduced, remediated and removed completely if possible," said Jenkins.

Jenkins and her research team are also studying ways to replicate, scale and even improve the Smartfish model.

"We want to see if their approach can make waste more explicitly a priority, or if it can be scaled up and used in different geographies as a way to incorporate that aspect of it," said Gabrielle "Gabby" Lout, a School for the Future of Innovation in Society doctoral student who has led the data collection. "Waste is not easily defined; it occurs throughout the entire fisheries value chain. That makes it a complex challenge. But the Smartfish approach has good potential to shed light on how we can better incorporate waste as a sustainability priority."

As the efforts to improve sustainability in the seafood industry continue, Jenkins wants people to understand the true cost of seafood; it's more than just money.

"The fish you eat has so much embodied in it," said Jenkins. "It may have only cost you a few dollars at the grocery store, but embedded in that cost is a life, fuel, carbon and water. So when we throw away the fish, we're throwing out so much more. That waste comes with a real burden on our society and our environment. With really small changes, we can fix that."

Jenkins will give her presentation, "SmartFish International: A Case Study of Market-based Approaches Impact on Waste," during the session "Reducing waste in the U.S. seafood supply chain" on February 9 at 1 p.m. MST. Lout will be a part of the post-panel Q&A. Jenkins will also participate in the session "Science-Dance for Inclusive Community Engagement, Education & Social Change," which will examine the role of dance as a tool for science engagement. That session will take place on February 11 at 12:30 p.m. MST.

Arizona State University

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