The environmental impacts of pelagic fish caught by Scottish vessels

Frances Sandison*, Jon Hillier, Astley Hastings, Paul Macdonald, Beth Mouat, C. Tara Marshall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Food production is estimated to emit between 20–30 % of global anthropogenic carbon emissions. The need to achieve net zero emissions requires a transition to low carbon, sustainable food sources. Of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for food production, only 4 % are attributed to wild capture fisheries. However, within seafood GHG studies a wide range of estimates can be found across different species, fishing methods and regions. This study assesses the environmental impact of fish capture, including the carbon footprint (CF), by the Scottish pelagic fleet, a highly modernised fleet targeting herring, mackerel and blue whiting in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. A life cycle assessment (LCA) was undertaken to provide a standardised comparison of pelagic fish with other seafood studies. One kg of whole round fish caught by the Scottish pelagic trawl fleet had a CF of 0.452 kg CO2 eq. Fuel burned during fishing operations was the largest contributing factor, accounting for approximately 96% of a CF. This figure was consistent with the expected results for a fishery for small pelagics, which are typically under 1 kg CO2 eq. per kg of whole fish landed. When contrasted with other seafood LCAs, the results were found to be lower than most other seafood. Our results demonstrate that Scottish-caught pelagic fish are a low carbon food source that could contribute to minimising food-related GHG emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105850
Number of pages12
JournalFisheries Research
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank all industry stakeholders that provided information for this study, and give special thanks to Steve Mackinson and Ian Gatt (Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association) for their advice and support. We are grateful to Dr. F. Ziegler and another anonymous reviewer for their detailed and constructive critiques.

Funding Information:
This research was undertaken as part of PhD studies and funded by the following institutions: Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group , Shetland Islands Council , University of Aberdeen , University of the Highlands and Islands , Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation .


  • Carbon footprint
  • LCA
  • Pelagic fish
  • Scotland


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