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Innovation and Sustainability in the Fishing Industry: Biorefinery

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Author: Jessica Wood


As a fisheries science student, I work in an industry that is often judged for its impact on the environment: whether it be overfishing, fishing gear entangling wildlife, or waste creation, the public is often quick to point fingers at the fishing industry when it comes to environmental stewardship. Very few will ever get the chance to see the research and innovation that goes on behind the scenes to build sustainable and more eco-friendly fishing practices. I’m one of the lucky few who has, and would like to share with you one of the areas of the fishing industry that is rapidly evolving into an intriguing field of study: biorefinery!


Taking one product and transforming it into multiple byproducts, or energy sources, often by re-using parts that would otherwise be waste. - J. Wood

Biorefinery is “the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable products and energy”(1). In other words, it’s taking one biological product and turning it into multiple byproducts, or energy sources, often by re-using parts that would otherwise be waste. When we think of buying fish in the grocery store here in Canada, we’re usually looking to buy fillets, which are the side-muscles and flesh of the fish. But what about the rest of the fish? The gut and other organs, head, tail, fins, and so on are waste, but don’t have to be. Discards can be further processed to produce nutraceuticals such as fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids, or even animal feed (2). The energy portion of the biorefinery definition can describe biodiesel production: a catalyst compound is required for certain chemical reactions of the biodiesel production process, one of which can be derived from unused scallop shells (3). Speaking of shellfish, chitin is a component of crustacean exoskeletons and shells, like the exoskeleton of shrimp, and can be used to create microbeads for the cosmetic industry (4). These chitin-based microbeads mean reducing the use of plastic-based microbeads and preventing plastic accumulating in the environment, but it also means making use of previously unused parts of crustaceans like shrimp or crabs. Overall, biorefinery is a rapidly evolving area of fisheries research and shows dedication to improving environmental impact.


Outside of the fishing industry, you can practice biorefinery concepts in your own home. Why not try and recycle as much of your meal as possible? How many different uses can you find for the discards of your dinner: fertilizer, crafting material, food for your pet? It may seem like an abstract idea at first, but it can be fun to try and challenge yourself.

In conclusion, research plays a fundamental role in advancing our environmental impact in not just the fishing industry, but any industry that takes from the earth. I’ve provided some examples of biorefinery in the fishing industry, but I’m merely scratching the surface. If you want to learn more, I suggest heading to the website of the Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development at the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland: https://www.mi.mun.ca/departments/centreforaquacultureandseafooddevelopment/

References:

1. International Energy Agency Bioenergy Task 42 on Biorefineries. 2008. Minutes of the third Task meeting, Copenhagen, Denmark, March 25-26.

2. Dave, D., and Routray, W. 2018. Current scenario of Canadian fishery and corresponding underutilized species and fishery byproducts: A potential source of omega-3 fatty acids. Journal of Cleaner Production. 180:617-641.

3. Sirisomboonchai, S., Abuduwayiti, M., Guan, G., Samart, C., Abliz, S., Hao, X., Kusakabe, K., and Abudula, A. 2015. Biodiesel production from waste cooking oil using calcined scallop shell as catalyst. Energy Conversion and Management. 95: 242-247.

4. King, C.A., Shamshihna, J.L., Zavgorodnya, O., Cutfield, T., Block, L.E., and Rogers, R.D. 2017. Porous Chitin Microbeads for More Sustainable Cosmetics. ACS Sustainable Chemistry. 5(12): 11660-11667

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