Fish is tasty, good for you, sustainable in terms of the environment, and an easy solution for improving the world’s food security. But is all fishing sustainable?
The sea is not bottomless
Out of the fish stocks of the world, as much as one third are overfished – fish are continuously caught in volumes that surpass the number of young fish that reach adulthood, leading to a decrease in the number of fish. Fortunately, it is also possible to fish sustainably: sustainable fishing takes into account the marine environment and the carrying capacity of fish stocks, and is the only way to ensure that there will be enough fish in the seas of the world, also in the future. More than half of the fish eaten by the Finns is farmed fish from Norway. Farmed fish eat fish fodder that is processed from fish, which means that growing a salmon, for example, consumes, by weight, more fish than produces. If we think of the big picture, it would, in fact, be better to utilize a larger share of wild fish directly in human consumption.
Sustainable local fish is available in the Baltic Sea, too: the majority of Finland’s Baltic herring catch, for example, is caught in the Bothnian Sea, where fish stocks are strong and fishing certified (MSC). Up to 30 to 40 million kg of bream, on the other hand, swim in our coastal waters: in the past few decades, we have forgotten how to appreciate this copper-sided fish as something we should cook food from, so significant fishing potential remains completely unutilized.
Nutrients from the sea to the plate
With wild fish catches, we simultaneously pull out a huge amount of nutrients, retained in the fish – the annual catch of fish caught in Finland, for example, removes more than 700 tonnes of algae-feeding phosphorus from the waterways. Scientists have in fact estimated, that by replacing half of the meat we eat with fish caught sustainably from the Baltic Sea, consumers could reduce their nutrient footprint by even more than by switching to a fully vegan diet.
Cyprinids, in particular, such as roach and bream, have benefitted from the sea’s eutrophication. These fish poke around the seabed for benthos, and help eutrophication by shifting the nutrients stored in the mud back to the coastal waters, where algae will feed on them. Roach and Baltic herring also nibble on zooplankton as part of their diet. When there are large numbers of small fish, zooplankton volumes decrease, and the algae have more room to grow. Predatory fish keep the numbers of small fish in check, but if fishing focuses strongly on predatory fish, the food chains of the sea will change. This is why it is very beneficial to increase the shares of sustainably caught smaller fish, such as bream, roach, Baltic herring, vendace and perch in our diet.
Environmentally friendly local fish
Many fish products you see stretched out in the grocery shop’s freezer may well have travelled around the globe twice before ending up on the plate of a consumer. The carbon footprint of locally caught fish is in fact far smaller than that of its cousins, who travel around in frozen containers. The climate load created by the diet of a mixed eater could in fact be reduced by up to a third by increasing the share of vegetables on the plate, and by moving from a meat-based diet to locally produced meals that feature fish. When we prefer sustainably caught local fish, we reduce the environmental load from food production, and help protect the biodiversity of all the seas of the world.
The tasty and in bygone times highly valued Baltic herring, roach and bream are now, for no real reason, overshadowed by other fish on the fish counter. Luckily, consumers today can choose from many easy-to-prepare products, canned and frozen foods and convenience foods, which help the fish from the Baltic Sea to swim to our plates even in the midst of our busy everyday lives. Preferring domestic Baltic herring and cyprinids is, in fact, an excellent way to reduce the climate impact of your own diet, all while helping the Baltic Sea!
John Nurminen Foundation’s fish projects show the way
With the two John Nurminen Foundation fish projects, we aim to be the pioneers who bring domestic cyprinids back to the spotlight and to the dinner tables of consumers. We are delighted to see that we have perhaps been even more successful than we dared to dream. In 2015-2019, the Local Fishing Project caught a total of 700,000 kg of bream and roach from the coastal waters of the Archipelago Sea and the Bothnian Sea. With the fish catch, we removed 5,000 of eutrophication-inducing phosphorus from the Sea. Operating on market terms, the project created a value chain for cyprinids from the sea to dinner plates, and launched a total of five products for consumers and institutional kitchens: the local fish patty (Arkea & Kalaliike S. Wallin), the roach loaf patty (Palmia & Lagerblad Foods), and three Pirkka archipelago fish products for Kesko (manufactured by Apetit).
Spurred on by the success in Finland, we expanded the fish stock management and productization of cyprinids in the Baltic Sea to Åland and Sweden, working in cooperation with the Race for the Baltic, Guldhaven Pelagiska, Rädda Lumparn, and Ålands Fiskarförbund. In 2019 – 2021, the Baltic Fish project caught a total of 54,000 kg of cyprinids, with which approximately 400 kg of phosphorus was removed from the Baltic Sea. Moreover, three roach products for institutional kitchens and home consumers were introduced, and new products are being planned.
During the projects, the number of cyprinid products created elsewhere also grew significantly.
The supply is there – what will you catch on your plate?
Text: Miina Mäki, Project Manager for marine environment projects, John Nurminen Foundation.
John Nurminen Foundation – Saving the Baltic Sea
Founded in 1992, the purpose of the John Nurminen Foundation is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations. The Foundation’s projects improve the status of the Baltic Sea by reducing the nutrient load and environmental problems, such as eutrophication and nature loss, faced by the sea. The Foundation’s tasks also include safeguarding, celebrating and communicating the stories and cultural heritage of the Sea. The work is steered by measurable results and impact. The Foundation’s operations are mainly funded by donations and grants. www.johnnurmisensaatio.fi/en
The Local Fish Project was partially funded by the EU Interreg Central Baltic programme (2015-2018).
The Baltic Fish project was partially financed by the Finnish and Swedish governments’ Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund, which in turn is managed by the Nordic environmental financing company NEFCO