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Our growing taste for shrimp is bad news for climate change

Fishing boats are catching more shrimp and lobsters than ever before—and although that may be good news for your next visit to a seafood restaurant, it’s not so hot for climate change. The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by fishing vessels rose 28% from 1990 to 2011, according to a new study, thanks largely to a greater haul of this premium seafood.

The findings are especially alarming because, over the past 2 decades, some fishing boats have become more fuel efficient and buyouts of excess fishing vessels have decreased competition and distances traveled. But the additional emissions from shrimp and lobster fishing have outweighed those gains. Pulling nets through the water adds considerable drag and also requires lower speeds, both factors that drain fuel tanks quickly. Lobster fishing also takes a lot of diesel to place, check, and retrieve the traps. Despite the costs, demand has been rising. In 2011, the amount of crustaceans caught was 60% higher than in 1990—a greater increase than for any other type of seafood—the researchers report today in Nature Climate Change.

All told, crustaceans account for 22% of the CO2 emissions from fishing, despite making up just 6% of all the tonnage landed. Given that fuel prices have decreased since 2008, the researchers expect that the trend has continued. The carbon intensity of lobster and wild-caught shrimp is less than most beef or lamb, they note. So surf still beats turf. But by far the most climate-friendly seafood is small pelagic fish, such as sardines, herrings, and anchovies.