A salmon farming company has purchased a Boeing 757 in a race to get its fresh fish to the plates of Manhattan diners in less than 24 hours.
Faroese company Bakkafrost, which also owns the Scottish Salmon Company, says it can reduce its carbon footprint by flying its own jet across the Atlantic and minimize waste by getting its fish to US customers faster.
But sustainability campaigners say its transatlantic flights are raising new questions about the climate impact of the global seafood industry and its growing reliance on air freight to open new markets overseas.
Fresh seafood such as salmon, tuna and lobster are often flown around the world rather than being frozen or super chilled for transport by ship. Activists calculate that flying salmon fillets from Scandinavia to the US produces 17 times more CO2 than traveling by boat.
Bakkafrost’s 757 is being converted into a flying fridge capable of carrying 35 tonnes of fresh salmon, chilled to zero degrees, from the Faroe Islands, an archipelago halfway between Scotland and Iceland, directly to an airport in New Jersey. Harvested that day, it would arrive in time to reach US wholesalers and restaurants early the next morning.
Bakkafrost plans to move other cargo to the Faroe Islands or Scottish airports to reduce operating costs and is considering additional flights to transport Scottish salmon to New York.
Regin Jacobsen, managing director of Bakkafrost, said direct flights into a ready-to-use cargo bay would reduce the company’s CO2 air freight emissions by 45%. It currently flies salmon to the United States via Heathrow, which increases flight time and requires large amounts of ice to keep the fish cool.
Jacobsen said the strategy will help meet his company’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and net zero by 2050, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Air cargo, he added, was only a small proportion of its overall exports. It shipped thousands of tons by sea every week.
“Reducing our carbon footprint in the United States is a huge step, and it’s very important that our customers get high-quality products,” he said. “By reducing transportation times, it means consumers in New York and the East Coast have very fresh produce and reduce food waste.”
Bakkafrost’s strategy is controversial within the salmon farming industry. Its Faroese rival Hiddenfjord stopped all airfreight in October 2020 and instead uses ships to reach US customers; the nine-day trips reduced its carbon footprint by 94%, to a tenth of the price of the flight.
Blake Lee-Harwood of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, which advises supermarkets on climate- and environmentally-friendly fishing policies, said the company should seek out low-carbon technologies instead of simply reducing the time to flight.
Around the world, air freight is increasingly being used to sell and distribute premium seafood products. Live Canadian lobsters are flown to Shanghai in China, Chilean salmon to New York and Norwegian salmon to Japan. Industry studies calculate that 18% of Norway’s fresh salmon is airlifted to customers, representing 50% of the total carbon emissions from Norwegian salmon farming.
“Climate change is an existential threat to the seafood industry and global livelihoods. We believe the seafood industry needs to be part of the solution by demonstrating the absolute best practices. This inevitably means moving away from air travel, certainly for farmed salmon,” Lee-Harwood said.
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain, which campaigns on food and agriculture, said: “We are in a climate and nature emergency. Globally, the way we produce our food is responsible for up to 30% of emissions.
“Rather than finding ways to make food fly even faster from one end of the world to the other, we should all strive to create a food system that feeds the people of the planet and allows nature to thrive. to re-establish.”