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Johns Hopkins Researchers to Investigate Challenges in Seafood Sustainability

Project will measure energy and water use in seafood production and waste, and identify reduction strategies

Apr 05, 2018

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, along with partners at Arizona State University and the University of Florida, will seek to reduce seafood resource use and waste with a grant from the US Department of Agriculture. The research will focus on measuring energy and water use in seafood production; measuring energy and water use in seafood waste; and integrating these findings in order to recommend strategies for meeting challenges.

The primary challenge that the researchers hope to address is the conundrum of how to keep resource use in check, especially if Americans heed the US government’s advice to double seafood consumption for health reasons. From a production perspective, the recommendation to double consumption is concerning because wild-caught seafood supplies are threatened, harvests have declined and harvesting requires high-energy inputs; aquaculture (the practice of farming seafood) also requires substantial energy and water use, as well as feed. At the same time, nearly half of the US seafood supply is wasted, according to one estimate.

This work will fill knowledge gaps in several areas, including better information on water and energy use in the rapidly growing sector of crop-based aquaculture feeds; how much and why seafood is wasted in the supply chain; patterns in consumer seafood discards; and which interventions could reduce seafood resource use and waste. 

The project responds to a significant research need by strengthening understanding of how seafood systems interact with and burden energy and water resource systems. The interdisciplinary research further breaks new ground by linking quantitative and qualitative methods to find solutions that are meaningful and considered feasible by industry, government and consumers. Researchers bring expertise in diverse fields such as aquaculture and fisheries, wasted food, resource economics, food systems and ecological engineering.

Principal investigator Dr. Roni Neff, Director of the Food System Sustainability & Public Health Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, looks forward to the light this research will shed on a growing concern within the food system.

“Nutrition advice to eat more seafood is bumping right up against deep concerns about sustainability. The only way forward is to better understand the resources used to produce and harvest seafood, and the factors shaping the high levels of wasted seafood, so we can identify the best strategies. This research does that and then takes it a step farther by gathering real-world insights about feasibility and acceptability of strategies from stakeholders.”

The multidisciplinary research team also includes Drs. Dave Love and Jillian Fry, and Ms. Erin Biehl, MSPH, from the Johns Hopkins University, Drs. Lekelia Jenkins and Stacia Dreyer from the Arizona State University, and Drs. Mark Brown, Frank Asche and Jim Anderson from the University of Florida.

“We’re going to utilize the power of case studies to provide the most in-depth exploration to date of challenges and opportunities in real-world implementation of seafood resource reduction interventions,” said Neff. “But we’re also using more traditional methods to quantify energy expenditures and inefficiencies.”

This research is funded by the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) initiative (Award #2018-67003-27408).