According to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), between 2009 and 2013, as much as 47% of all edible seafood in the United States went to waste. A majority of this wasted fish is thanks to consumers, who buy fresh and frozen fish but never end up eating it, a recent article states.
While it’s not news that Americans waste a lot of food, it is that the wasted seafood that should trouble us most, the article explains, as there are few sources of nutrition that are as coveted as fish. Fish are high in protein, low in fat, and eating them is associated with all sorts of beneficial health outcomes. And yet, few foods are discarded so frequently.
In order to put the scale of seafood loss in the U.S. in perspective, consider what curbing it could mean for our collective diets. As stated in the article, conservative estimates suggest that the 2.3 billion pounds of seafood squandered each year would be enough to provide enough protein for more than 10 million men or 12 million women — for an entire year. The calories, meanwhile, would be enough to feed 1.5 million adults for that long as well.
“It is critical and urgent to reduce waste of seafood,” David Love, a researcher with the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project at the CLF, and the study’s lead author, said in the article.
However, not all of the fish that finds its way into the garbage is the fault of people who buy but never end up using it. As much as a third of seafood waste is due to a byproduct of fishing, known as bycatch, where large nets capture more than intended. Much of that is thrown back into the water, often after being injured or killed, the article explains.
But the wasting of seafood is just the beginning. In 2012, Americans threw out some 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s roughly 40% of the country’s food supply. What’s worse is that the 35 million tons of food discarded in 2012 is 20% more than the U.S. tossed out in 2000, 50% more than in 1990, and roughly three times what Americans discarded in 1960.
At present, Americans throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal and glass.
But fish is a particularly unfortunate thing to waste. The nutritional value of seafood is incomparable and it’s likely of little coincidence that many of the places where people live the longest are fond of fish.
In fact, nearly three decades ago, Dutch researchers published a study in The New England Journal of Medicine after studying the extremely low death rate from coronary heart disease among Greenland Eskimos. Researchers followed 872 men aged 40 to 59 for 20 years and found that those who ate as little as one or two fish meals a week had a 50% lower death rate from heart attacks than those who did not eat fish.
That being said, the plea for people to eat more and waste less are in many ways are interrelated. Fish, the researchers lament, is particularly prone to loss because it’s especially perishable. But it’s also prone to loss because people just aren’t that into it.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per-capita seafood consumption is about 14 pounds per year in the U.S. In Spain, it’s upwards of 90 pounds per year; in Japan, it’s about 120 pounds per year.
“You have a population that is somewhat fish-averse…and we really don’t take the opportunity to educate consumers about all the great attributes that go along with seafood, all the health and nutrition attributes, and we don’t teach people how to prepare it,” Christopher Lischewski, chief executive officer at Bumble Bee Foods, said in the article.
The combination of messaging about the benefits of eating fish and the still underdeveloped culture of enjoying it could be coercing more fish purchases at the grocery store than actual meals at home.
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The graphic below, from the study, shows where along the path seafood tends to disappear. Most of it — 1.4 billion tons of the 2.1 billion tons of edible fish that finds its way into the production process — happens after the fish has been delivered to restaurants, supermarkets and households. (Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/28/the-mind-boggling-amounts-of-fish-we-waste/)