Freshwater savings from marine protein consumption

Author:Gephart, Jessica, Arts & Sciences Graduate-gasgUniversity of Virginia

Marine fisheries provide an essential source of protein for many people around the world. Unlike alternative terrestrial sources of protein, marine fish production requires little to no freshwater inputs. Consuming marine fish protein instead of terrestrial protein therefore represents freshwater savings (equivalent to an avoided water cost) and contributes to a low water footprint diet. These water savings are realized by the producers of alternative protein sources, rather than the consumers of marine protein. This study quantifies freshwater savings from marine fish consumption around the world by estimating the water footprint of replacing marine fish with terrestrial protein based on current consumption patterns. An estimated 7 600 km3 yr−1 of water is used for human food production. Replacing marine protein with terrestrial protein would require an additional 350 km3 yr−1 of water, meaning that marine protein provides current water savings of 4.6%. The importance of these freshwater savings is highly uneven around the globe, with savings ranging from as little as 0 to as much as 50%. The largest savings as a per cent of current water footprints occur in Asia, Oceania, and several coastal African nations. The greatest national water savings from marine fish protein occur in Southeast Asia and the United States. As the human population increases, future water savings from marine fish consumption will be increasingly important to food and water security and depend on sustainable harvest of capture fisheries and low water footprint growth of marine aquaculture.

water footprint, fish, freshwater, food security, water security, virtual water
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Source Citation:

Gephart, Jessica. "Freshwater savings from marine protein consumption." Environmental Research Letters 9.1 (2014). Available: [""].

Institute of Physics
Published Date:

This work has passed a peer-review process.