Accounting for overfishing in life cycle assessment: new impact categories for biotic resource use

  • Andreas Emanuelsson
  • Friederike Ziegler
  • Leif Pihl
  • Mattias Sköld
  • Ulf Sonesson



Overfishing is a relevant issue to include in all life cycle assessments (LCAs) involving wild caught fish, as overfishing of fish stocks clearly targets the LCA safeguard objects of natural resources and natural ecosystems. Yet no robust method for assessing overfishing has been available. We propose lost potential yield (LPY) as a midpoint impact category to quantify overfishing, comparing the outcome of current with target fisheries management. This category primarily reflects the impact on biotic resource availability, but also serves as a proxy for ecosystem impacts within each stock.


LPY represents average lost catches owing to ongoing overfishing, assessed by simplified biomass projections covering different fishing mortality scenarios. It is based on the maximum sustainable yield concept and complemented by two alternative methods, overfishing though fishing mortality (OF) and overfishedness of biomass (OB), that are less data-demanding.

Results and discussion

Characterization factors are provided for 31 European commercial fish stocks in 2010, representing 74 % of European and 7 % of global landings. However, large spatial and temporal variations were observed, requiring novel approaches for the LCA practitioner. The methodology is considered compliant with the International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) standard in most relevant aspects, although harmonization through normalization and endpoint characterization is only briefly discussed.


Seafood LCAs including any of the three approaches can be a powerful communicative tool for the food industry, seafood certification programmes, and for fisheries management.


Life cycle impact assessment Lost potential yield Maximum sustainable yield Overfishing Seafood life cycle assessment 



We would like to thank Ole Eigaard, Ian Vázquez-Rowe, and Sverker Molander for useful comments on this work, which has been funded by the EU FP7 project LC-IMPACT (contract number 243827) and the Swedish Research Council Formas.

Supplementary material

11367_2013_684_MOESM1_ESM.docx (122 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 121 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sustainable Food ProductionSIK—The Swedish Institute for Food and BiotechnologyGothenburgSweden
  2. 2.Department of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of GothenburgFiskebackskilSweden
  3. 3.Department of Aquatic Resources, Institute of Marine ResearchSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesLysekilSweden

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