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Buying salmon? Choose frozen

(article, Culinate staff)

Researchers at Portland's Ecotrust, working with others in Sweden and Canada, have determined that it's more important — from an ecological perspective — to buy frozen salmon rather than fresh, according to a recent report by Abby Haight in the Oregonian.

That's because it takes less energy to transport frozen fish — usually on shipping containers via rail or trucks — than it does to transport fresh fish, which goes by air (unless, of course, it's very, very local). 

According to Dan Shapley's analysis of the findings over on The Daily Green, this could mean big changes in how we source fish:

bq. The traditional fish-market questions — farmed or wild, organic or conventional — don't matter as much as we all thought.

What matters more, he says, is how the fish are caught and transported:

bq. Air-freighting salmon, and any food, results in substantial increases in environmental impacts. If more frozen food were consumed, more container ships would be used to ship food. Container ships are by far the most efficient and carbon-friendly way to transport food. Globally, the majority of salmon fillets are currently consumed fresh and never frozen. In fish-loving Japan, which gets much of its fish by air, switching to 75 percent frozen salmon would have more benefit than all of Europe eating locally farmed salmon.

Also reporting on the salmon study, the Globe and Mail's Jessica Leeder urges consumers to look beyond the "local" label:

bq. Buying imported fish that "swim" frozen into local ports via environmentally economical cargo ships can have a bigger impact on reducing the carbon impact of your meal — and global climate change — than choosing organic or local stock.

All the reports, however, urge consumers to steer clear of farmed salmon in favor of the wild version. We've got to look closely at not just where our food was produced, says Leeder, but how:

bq. In the case of farmed salmon — carnivorous fish that live on pellets made from other fish — that means awakening to the intense environmental drain caused by making those pellets, which are culpable for around 90 percent of the total greenhouse-gas emissions the fish generate up to the point of harvest.

According to the Oregonian's_ Haight, the folks behind the popular Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium may add transport method to their criteria for ratings. Says one aquarium spokesperson:

bq. We're looking at it very seriously, because we're concerned about all these issues. Climate change is one of the major issues the aquarium is involved in. It causes ocean acidification. It can change whole ecosystems — make coral reefs disappear. It could make some fisheries disappear.