If you care about climate change, should you order salad or seafood? | KUOW News and Information

If you care about climate change, should you order salad or seafood?

Jan 30, 2018

You’ve got a hankering for seafood, but you’re worried about climate change. What should you eat?


Climate change has been identified as a threat to fisheries all over the world, but it's not easy to find out information about the carbon footprint of seafood. Most groups that offer consumers information about seafood "sustainability" focus on issues like fishing industry practices and regulations.

Seafood Watch, one of the leading guides, doesn't look at the carbon footprint of the fish they rate. And the "sustainable" seafood label from the Marine Stewardship Council does not mean sustainable when it comes to carbon footprint, either. 

The lack of information is one reason why University of Washington fisheries professor Ray Hilborn has been studying the carbon footprint of seafood. 

Hilborn recently sat down at a Seattle seafood restaurant to give  KUOW listeners some general advice on what to order (and what to avoid) to lower your carbon footprint. 

Best Bets: 

Looking over a local restaurant menu, Hilborn pointed to the locally-harvested mussels. He said that choice would likely be even better than ordering the salad when it comes to lowering your carbon footprint.

Hilborn specifically recommended the local clam and mussel appetizers “because you don't have to feed them, and that takes very little energy.”

Second Best:  

If clams and mussels don't do it for you, try sardines, herring, squid, anchovies, and “other fish that are abundant and easy to capture,” like Alaska pollock or other whitefish.

“In the carbon footprint world, you want something that is captured easily in high density,” Hilborn said.   

And along those lines, Hilborn had some surprising news about fast food:  “In the drive-through at McDonalds, if you get the fish burger, it’s Alaska pollock, which has a really low greenhouse gas footprint."

He added that a McDonald's hamburger is probably one of the worst ordering choices you can make.  

Do not order:

Hilborn did not recommend ordering the shrimp or the lobster on the seafood menu.    

“I'm just looking at data for the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery," he said.  “It's got the worst carbon footprint I've ever seen because they burn a lot of fuel to catch relatively few per hour. It’s worse than beef.” 

Editors Note:  Ray Hilborn received funding from the Seafood Industry Research Fund for this research.