‘Bluewashing’: The New Greenwashing
An Fishes Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM FOOD X, Project of the Center for Biological Diversity
November 2021

When we reduce animals to merely “seafood” (as we do by using the word “beef” for cows and “pork” for pigs), we distance ourselves from the reality of wildlife, reducing ecosystems to a buffet for human consumption.


Seafood sales are on the rise as the “blue food” movement grows, encouraging people to eat more fish as a climate solution. But “blue food” is a new marketing term for an old idea — one I bought into myself for the many years I cut meat and dairy, but not fish, from my diet. The blue food narrative, which tells us that eating fish is good for the planet, leaves out a big part of the picture: The way we fish is obliterating marine ecosystems and the health of the planet’s oceans.

We don’t even eat nearly half of the creatures we pull from the sea. Each year in the United States, 2.3 billion pounds of fish are wasted, including 573 million pounds of nontargeted wildlife, called “bycatch.” Endangered whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins and other ecologically important species become collateral damage of the industrial fishing industry (subsistence fishing and Indigenous foodways are a mere 3% of global fishing). For some U.S. fisheries, such as shrimp trawlers, bycatch is as high as 64% of total yield. So we need to keep biodiversity impacts in mind when we talk about the environmental cost of industrial fishing.

To address the climate impacts of fishing, policies and discourse should differentiate among species. Averaged across the whole seafood industry, fish has a carbon footprint similar to that of poultry. Low-emissions seafood is algae and mussels — not salmon and tuna — and certainly not shrimp or prawns, which rank up there with beef and lamb on the emissions scale. So to call all seafood “blue food” is a mistake.

Another misconception is the belief that most seafood is wasted at restaurants. It’s true that 65% of money spent by consumers on seafood is at restaurants, but it turns out that’s because it costs more to eat fish in restaurants. Pound for pound, most consumer seafood waste happens at home.

That’s why grocery store policy is important. As a gateway between fisheries and dinner tables, supermarkets must commit to exclusively selling seafood that meets the highest standards of sustainability starting at the hook, with the elimination of bycatch in supply chains. Seafood certifications on 100% of products should be a baseline, not an end goal, as even the leading sustainable fisheries certifications can be misleading.

As always, strategies that prevent food waste — rather than just diverting it — are key, along with tracking and transparency. Without preventing the waste of nontarget marine life, “sustainable seafood” labels don’t mean much. Food waste threatens our food security as well as our wildlife: Estimates suggest we could feed 10 to 12 million people a year on the amount of seafood the United States wastes throughout the supply chain.

When we reduce animals to merely “seafood” (as we do by using the word “beef” for cows and “pork” for pigs), we distance ourselves from the reality of wildlife, reducing ecosystems to a buffet for human consumption. This results in environmental policies without teeth, consumer behavior that supports an exploitative industry, supply chains that wreak havoc on biodiversity, and sustainable-seafood certifications that aren’t sustainable.

The climate emergency requires us to consider all reasonable solutions that could work, are fair, and don’t add to the problem. But we don’t have time to waste on false solutions that trick Americans into believing it’s sustainable to consume from industrial animal agriculture and fishery operations. We have to make serious dietary shifts to meet our climate goals.

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