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The environmental cost of animal source foods

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The environmental cost of animal source foods

Following work conducted as part of her Master’s thesis, this past June, Teressa co-published a paper with Ray Hilborn titled “The environmental cost of animal source foods” in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. This meta-analysis used life cycle assessment (LCA) as a tool for providing insights into which animal food choices are the most environmentally responsible by quantifiably measuring the environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions) of a production system from a cradle to grave perspective. Calculated results from 148 LCA studies were compared, focusing on livestock production, aquaculture, and capture fisheries. The analysis highlighted beef production and catfish farming as the systems with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and potential for eutrophication and acidification.

Washingtonians may find it unsurprising that non-fed aquaculture production, particularly of mollusk species, were identified as having the lowest cost to the environment due to their low energy and resource demands. Small pelagic fisheries also have low costs as a result of capture efficiency. The purpose of this paper was to highlight environmentally friendly food systems, discuss the need for further research into reducing environmental impacts, and to stimulate a conversation on how we define ‘sustainability’.

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Uncovering freshwater fish harvest

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Uncovering freshwater fish harvest

In the absence of complete freshwater fish catch data, how can we assess and value the contribution of freshwater fish to local consumption? This is the central question recently explored by Fluet-Chouinard et al. in Global hidden harvest of freshwater fish revealed by household surveys. Understanding that "experts have long believed that fish catches from rivers and lakes are underreported" they backcalculated freshwater fish harvests using surveys of household consumption. Having collected data from 548,000 households across 42 countries, they found that:

  • freshwater catches are likely to be ∼65% higher than officially reported
  • these hidden harvests are concentrated in low-income countries where they represent the equivalent of the total annual animal protein consumption of 36.9 million people, and
  • long-term underreporting of inland fisheries masks their critical role in feeding the world’s poor and complicates using catch statistics to evaluate the impact of overharvest and ecosystem degradation 

This study provides a way of estimating inland water freshwater fish production in a manner that maybe easier than the difficult task of assessing and monitoring freshwater fish catches. Additionally, it yields useful information on people's diets and the nutrient contribution of fish to those diets. As noted above, the headline finding is that we currently underestimate global inland fish catches by 65%. Inland fish catches are more important than we thought, and need to be considered in water resource management and food and nutrition policies. 

This week, Eddie and colleague Dave Mills of WorldFish published a commentary piece to Fluet-Chouinard et al.'s publication, entitled Counting the fish eaten rather than the fish caught in which they argue that Fluet-Chouinard's use of household food consumption surveys provides a critical methodology and potential solution to long-term underreporting of inland fisheries. This methodology contributes to a rapidly growing policy discussion about the role of fish in nutrition and food security. 

Both articles are available upon request. 

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Towards an Integrative Framework for Local Environmental Stewardship

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Towards an Integrative Framework for Local Environmental Stewardship

Last week was a busy time for the Lab. In addition to the Cinner et. al. paper published in Nature Climate Science, Eddie Allison and PhD student Hannah Bassett co-authored a paper led by Nathan Bennett entitled Environmental Stewardship: A Conceptual Review and Analytical Framework

The paper deepens the concept of stewardship by presenting a comprehensive definition of environmental stewardship and a framework to better understand conditions that lead to successful stewardship in different contexts. To date, there has been extensive attention and investment in local environmental stewardship with regard to conservation and environmental management policies and programs. However, little attention has gone into understanding the conditions that lead to successful stewardship efforts and the nature of activities that can support, enable or facilitate stewardship maintenance or development. Stewardship, as the authors define it, hinges on three central elements - actors, motivations, and capacity. 

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This figure from the paper shows the analytical framework for environmental stewardship and it's many elements. Asterisks (*) mark leverage points where strategic interventions – via government policies, NGO programs, market mechanisms or other initiatives at a range of scales – can be applied to support or promote local environmental stewardship efforts. 

This paper was published open access, so is available to everyone for free, here!

 

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Five community characteristics that increase adaptive capacity in the face of climate change

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Five community characteristics that increase adaptive capacity in the face of climate change

This past week, Professor Allison co-authored a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

The paper, led by Josh Cinner, proposes an approach to increasing tropical coastal communities' ability to adapt to climate change through five domains. While governments, development agencies, and civil society have made substantial investments in minimizing the impact of climate change on human well-being, to date, these investments have been targeted towards a narrow understanding of adaptive capacity. 

Below are the five key community characteristics that Professor Allison and co-authors found increase adaptive capacity of communities. Excerpts beside each characteristic are quotes from the authors originally included in a news piece covering the paper in Science Daily:

  1. Access to assets to draw upon in times of need. "These assets can include household wealth or public goods such as health services, but they need to be developed in ways that don't exacerbate existing inequalities";
  2. Flexibility to change. "Having some flexibility can enable people to minimise losses or even take advantage of climate-related change," said Prof. Eddie Allison... "For example, fishers might need to change fishing grounds or target new species."
  3. Knowledge of climate change effects and adaptation options. "People need to learn about new techniques and strategies that can help them cope with changing circumstances," said Prof. Katrina Brown at the University of Exeter, UK.
  4. Strong social relationships. "The formal and informal relationships that people have with each other and their communities can help them deal with change by providing social support and access to both knowledge and resources," said Prof. Cinner.
  5. Empowerment to make choices for themselves. "We also need to ensure that people have the ability to determine what is right for them," said Prof. Brown."

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Report on integration of fisheries into food security policy presented to UN

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Report on integration of fisheries into food security policy presented to UN

Professor Allison and colleagues have long been advocating for increased consideration of food security in fishery policy and vice versa.  "Fisheries and the oceans are finally being featured in high-level discussions about food security, after years of trying to make the case that fish and seafood are important components of the global food system - and not just a concern for marine conservation or trade discussions," noted Professor Allison. "While that message seems to be getting through, a concern of our FAO partners was that most UN country officers and organizations concerned with food security at national and local levels were not very familiar with fisheries nor how to go about including them in food security planning." 

The past few months have seen some forward momentum on this front as Professor Allison and PhD student, Zach Koehn, worked with FAO staff to provide briefing notes to assist the integration of fisheries into food security policy.  The document was presented to delegates at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on Global Food Security when it met in Rome in October and was publicly released this month. 

Furthering the work's impact, Zach led the joint MARINA Lab and FAO team in turning this report into a chapter in a forthcoming book on the Oceans in the Anthropocene, edited by Melissa Poe of NOAA and Phil Levin of University of Washington and The Nature Conservancy. The team looks forward to continuing this trajectory and increasing awareness and action toward integration of food security and fishery policy.

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