« June 2009 Table of Contents
Going Green: Shrinking the carbon footprint
Distributor focus on reduced carbon pays off; harvesters work to increase fuel efficiency
By Lisa Duchene
June 01, 2009
John Rorapaugh is working on a monster project, so far
tackled only by a few in the seafood marketplace. Rorapaugh,
who handles sustainability for ProFish, a Washington, D.C.,
distributor, is trying to place a carbon score upon each of the
company's more than 700 products.
Called "Carbon Fishprint," the labeling program takes into
account criteria like whether the product is farmed or wild,
the harvest method and gear type, its origin, the type of
energy powering the production facility and whether the product
was trucked or air-freighted.
Items accumulate points for carbon-intensity in each of the
categories, up to a theoretical 50 points for an extremely high
carbon-intense seafood product, says Rorapaugh. A Virginia
croaker caught by hook and line is a "shining example" of a
low-carbon product, says Rorapaugh, and likely to score a six,
while so far others deemed especially carbon-intensive like
air-freighted Pacific bluefin tuna net a score of 38.
"I know that [carbon tracking is] the future," says
Rorapaugh. "I see it and Greg [Casten] and Tim [Lydon], both
the owners, realize it."
Rorapaugh and ProFish embarked on the project for customer
Bon Appetit Management, a foodservice company in Palo Alto,
Calif., which two years ago launched an effort to cut the
carbon footprint of its food supply by 25 percent.
That meant pushing its 30 seafood suppliers to provide
information on how the seafood was harvested and transported,
as well as how products compared on carbon dioxide
"Through them, we started changing our buying practices,"
says Rorapaugh. The company is sharing carbon-emissions
information with its other customers.
ProFish carefully orchestrates its truck routes for
efficiency, purchases wind power for its warehouse, pushes
suppliers to use recyclable cardboard instead of Styrofoam, and
hopes to install mirrored tubes vertically along its warehouse
walls to allow sunlight to fill the building and provide
daytime lighting. Its goal is to become a carbon-neutral
The effort is just one example of how seafood's carbon
footprint may be shrinking, although it's impossible to put a
number on the current size or reduction. Assigning a carbon
rating to a seafood product is hardly an exact science -
something Rorapaugh is the first to admit. Yet, some measure of
the carbon dioxide emissions represented by a product is
becoming an important factor in the sustainable foods
marketplace. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases
warming the planet. Today, atmospheric carbon dioxide
concentrations are estimated to hover around 385 parts per
million. NASA climatologist James Hansen advises a limit of 350
ppm to avoid "irreversible catastrophic effects," adding
additional urgency to the effort.
In the Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off Maine and Alaska,
fishermen are using energy-efficient practices and technologies
to help save fuel costs. Fish feed companies are working on
formulations to reduce the amount of fishmeal in aquaculture
diets; less fishmeal tends to mean a lower carbon
Nearly all of the seafood Bon Appetit buys - an amount the
company does not release - is transported by truck or ship,
instead of by air.
Bon Appetit serves 80 million meals annually at 400 cafes in
29 states and since 2002 has been purchasing only seafood rated
"green" or "yellow" by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
The company is 90 percent compliant with its goal to
eliminate all air-freighted seafood, explains Helene York, Bon
Appetit's director of strategic initiatives.
"For us, the most interesting aspect of this initiative has
been our work with seafood suppliers," says York.
"Suppliers are genuinely interested in trying to fairly
represent their products as less carbon-intensive than other
The key to cutting seafood's carbon footprint is to use it
regionally and seasonally because that approach cuts
transportation-related emissions, says York.
On the water, there are several initiatives to reduce
seafood's carbon footprint. Record-high fuel prices of 2008
prompted many fleets to seek ways to cut fuel usage.
In the Gulf of Mexico, some shrimpers are saving between 10
and 28 percent with the use of new trawl doors, the weights
that keep the net open and low to the bottom for catching
The experimental doors were adapted from an Icelandic
design, says Gary Graham, a marine fisheries specialist with
Texas Sea Grant in West Columbia, Texas. The doors have squared
bottoms and curved tops to reduce their drag in the water. The
new design, first tested in 2005, costs about $7,000,
comparable to traditional rectangular-shaped doors. But the
design allows a 20 percent savings, or about 10,000 gallons of
diesel fuel, off the typical Gulf shrimp boat's average fuel
use of about 50,000 gallons annually. Western Seafood, in
Freeport, Texas, initially spotted the design in Iceland and
has worked with Sea Grant and shrimpers to help adapt it for
the Gulf, says Graham.
Fishermen out of Port Clyde, Maine, have also been testing
various gear changes that reduce their boats' drag in the water
and fuel use, says Steve Eayrs, a research scientist at the
Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Some boats have lightened
their sweeps, or rubber ground gear that keeps the nets off the
bottom, and increased the mesh
size in the cod-end of the net
from 6.5 inches to 7 inches to reduce drag.
Eayrs plans this summer to measure the fuel savings the
changes represent and encourages fishermen to install a fuel
flow meter so they can see in real time how little changes
"It's quite interesting that all these benefits can be
realized by a relatively modest change in fishing gear," says
In some parts of Alaska, the price of diesel fuel reached $7
per gallon in 2008. Most of the 126 fishermen who responded to
a fall 2008 online survey from Sea Grant's Marine Advisory
Program said they had spent less time on the water prospecting
for fish, stayed closer to home and stayed on the grounds
longer. Many carefully planned routes, eased off the throttle
and maintained their boat engines and fuel systems, according
to the survey.
Glenn Haight, a fisheries business specialist with Sea Grant
in Juneau, says his sense in talking with fishermen is that the
changes will continue, even though fuel prices eased
Perhaps efforts like those in Alaska, Maine and the Gulf
will translate into value beyond saving money on fuel.
Rorapaugh believes the information he is sharing with customers
from his carbon-rating project has helped ProFish gain business
in a dismal economy.
"Everybody's talking about down numbers and we're not
[down]. My sales have grown a lot this year," says
Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte,