, Volume 12, Issue 6, pp 414-421
Date: 26 Sep 2006

Impact categories for life cycle assessment research of seafood production systems: Review and prospectus

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Abstract

Goal, Scope and Background

In face of continued declines in global fisheries landings and concurrent rapid aquaculture development, the sustainability of seafood production is of increasing concern. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) offers a convenient means of quantifying the impacts associated with many of the energetic and material inputs and outputs in these industries. However, the relevant but limited suite of impact categories currently used in most LCA research fails to capture a number of important environmental and social burdens unique to fisheries and aquaculture. This article reviews the impact categories used in published LCA research of seafood production to date, reports on a number of methodological innovations, and discusses the challenges to and opportunities for further impact category developments.

Main Features

The range of environmental and socio-economic impacts associated with fisheries and aquaculture production are introduced, and both the commonly used and innovative impact categories employed in published LCA research of seafood production are discussed. Methodological innovations reported in agricultural LCAs are also reviewed for possible applications to seafood LCA research. Challenges and options for including additional environmental and socioeconomic impact categories are explored.

Results

A review of published LCA research in fisheries and aquaculture indicates the frequent use of traditional environmental impact categories as well as a number of interesting departures from the standard suite of categories employed in LCA studies in other sectors. Notable examples include the modeling of benthic impacts, by-catch, emissions from anti-fouling paints, and the use of Net Primary Productivity appropriation to characterize biotic resource use. Socio-economic impacts have not been quantified, nor does a generally accepted methodology for their consideration exist. However, a number of potential frameworks for the integration of such impacts into LCA have been proposed.

Discussion

LCA analyses of fisheries and aquaculture call attention to an important range of environmental interactions that are usually not considered in discussions of sustainability in the seafood sector. These include energy use, biotic resource use, and the toxicity of anti-fouling paints. However, certain important impacts are also currently overlooked in such research. While prospects clearly exist for improving and expanding on recent additions to environmental impact categories, the nature of the LCA framework may preclude treatment of some of these impacts. Socio-economic impact categories have only been described in a qualitative manner. Despite a number of challenges, significant opportunities exist to quantify several important socio-economic impacts.

Conclusion

The limited but increasing volume of LCA research of industrial fisheries and aquaculture indicates a growing interest in the use of LCA methodology to understand and improve the sustainability performance of seafood production systems. Recent impact category innovations, and the potential for further impact category developments that account for several of the unique interactions characteristic of fisheries and aquaculture will significantly improve the usefulness of LCA in this context, although quantitative analysis of certain types of impacts may remain beyond the scope of the LCA framework. The desirability of incorporating socio-economic impacts is clear, but such integration will require considerable methodological development.

Recommendations and Perspectives

While the quantity of published LCA research for seafood production systems is clearly increasing, the influence this research will have on the ground remains to be seen. In part, this will depend on the ability of LCA researchers to advance methodological innovations that enable consideration of a broader range of impacts specific to seafood production. It will also depend on the ability of researchers to communicate with a broader audience than the currently narrow LCA community.