World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

A fisherman hauls a fish onto a boat

Out of the Sea, Waste I Could Be

  • Date: 06 June 2018
  • Author: Amanda Stone, Director of Platforms and Engagement at WWF

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations  around 35% of harvested fish and seafood is either lost or wasted along the supply chain - with other studies putting that number closer to 50%.

And this comes at a time when nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries are harvested right up to or beyond their ecological limits. As populations and appetites for nutritious protein like seafood grow, we have precious few resources to spare.

So where does this loss happen?

Some of it happens while still out on the ocean. Wherever there is fishing, there is bycatch: Millions of tons of fish, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and other sea creatures are caught unintentionally and then discarded or returned to the sea each year - in many cases because they’re dead, dying or badly damaged or because they’re not marketable. A 2009 study found that bycatch could represent 40% of global marine catches that are unused or unmanaged, though in some markets much of this bycatch does make it to market, which makes it tricky to measure. 

Luckily, proven solutions like alternative fishing gear do exist to reduce bycatch and others are in the works. (Learn more about how WWF works with partners on developing this gear and how to sustainably manage wild fisheries.)

But bycatch isn’t the only cause of loss. Once a catch lands at dock, it makes a few more stops before reaching your plate, such as processing plants, airplanes, traders, wholesalers, dealers, distributors, and transporters. Along this journey, it must stay cold and controlled through careful preservation and processing techniques to be safe and ready for consumption; if it doesn’t, it can be lost to spoilage at any step. Often the seafood you eat is frozen when caught and transported, then thawed and marketed as “fresh”.  FAO estimates that 27% of fish are lost or wasted between catch and consumption.

To help us better envision this long trip, WWF worked with Condition One and Google to bring one of these journeys to life using 360° video and virtual reality (VR). Through this visualization, we are inspired to find solutions and empowered to eliminate waste and to fully value the time and energy behind every wild-caught or farm-raised fish we consume.

Supported by Google’s Daydream Impact program and produced by Condition One, the VR project aims to help raise awareness around the challenges facing our oceans using VR video. Short of physically being on a fishing boat or in a processing plant, there’s no better way to understand these issues.

You can experience the video below on YouTube on desktop or mobile – use your mouse or finger depending on your device to move around and explore the scenery around you. For the most immersive experience, view the video on YouTube using a VR viewer like Cardboard or Daydream View.

You can also dive in and explore one sample supply chain with a new Google Voyager – a map-based guided story that casts off from a dock in California and follows the fish on their journey, while exploring loss along the way.  

The amount of seafood we lose each year could help feed millions around the world. The loss and waste of seafood products represents the loss of biodiversity and all the resources that were used to grow, transport and refrigerate that fish (feed, fuel, energy). By attempting to eliminate seafood waste throughout the supply chain, we can make better use what we harvest, increase the availability of nutritious seafood for people around the world, decrease price volatility in seafood markets, and potentially increase fishery productivity and profitability.

We all have a role to play in reducing lost and waste across the supply chain from fishermen to processors to consumers. For example:

  • Gear development and policy changes can reduce bycatch.
  • Technological innovation in storage, refrigeration, processing, and packaging can increase efficiency.
  • Measurement of waste and sharing loss/waste information across industries can illuminate possible areas for prevention or reduction and cost savings.
  • Eliminating fish bycatch or creatively using unavoidable bycatch can generate alternative sources of nutrition for consumers and additional revenue streams for companies.

WWF is working with businesses across the supply chain to reduce loss and waste.

Learn more about what consumers can do to cut waste:
Read more about WWF’s work with private sector partners on sustainable seafood: