Sustainable seafood business, carbon footprint analysis
Fishing communities and seafood suppliers in Maine who depend on the ocean for their livelihood have seen the effects of climate change firsthand, as warming ocean temperatures significantly affect their catches.
Luke’s Lobster is one supplier who is taking matters into their own hands, transitioning their docks and operations to renewable energy and making energy efficiency improvements. They are working closely with a local nonprofit and outside consultants, assessing their carbon footprint, and planning to share this with others in the industry.
Luke Holden is a third-generation lobsterman who spent his childhood learning the trade from his father, and built his own boat at the age of 16. He briefly pursued a career as a financial investor in New York City, but his inescapable love of the fishing industry drew him back to Maine. “There’s nothing I would rather be doing on the planet,” Holden says.
In 2009, he founded Luke’s Lobster, a company that buys a variety of seafood products from fishermen and sells them to restaurants, to grocery stores and direct to customers. Holden considers multi-generational fishing families like his to be stewards of the ocean. “And great stewards leave things in a better state than when they found them,” he says. From the outset, Luke’s Lobster adopted a triple-bottom-line approach, wherein people, profit and the environment are equal priorities. Working closely with Holden since the business’s inception is Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Ben Conniff, who also initially pursued a desk job, but whose passions for sustainability and seafood drew him to Luke’s Lobster.
The company is headquartered at the Portland Pier wharf in Maine, where the fishing community harvests a wide range of fish and shellfish from the Atlantic Ocean — including cod, halibut, monkfish, bluefin tuna, haddock, scallops, lobster, crab and more — that are critical sources of food and income for many Americans.
However, these ecosystems — and the economies that rely on them — have suffered in recent years due to rapidly warming temperatures in the Gulf of Maine (which is warming faster than 99% of the rest of the ocean). In 2012, this temperature shift caused lobster catches to peak three to four weeks earlier than usual, before the supply chain was prepared for the influx of product, resulting in a severe drop in price. Warmer temperatures have also disrupted the life cycle of cod in the Gulf of Maine, leading to an accidental overfishing of the species even though catches were within the legal quota.
Luke’s Lobster relies on 100% renewable energy in facilities it controls, and many local fishing co-ops are following suit.
Over the past 11 years, Luke’s Lobster has grown, and it now buys and sells roughly 5 million pounds of live lobster and nearly 2 million pounds of crab each year. To support their mission of sustainability, Holden and Conniff work closely with the Island Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting coastal communities in Maine. Luke’s Lobster is a Certified B Corporation, meaning that the business meets very high social and environmental standards. The partnership with Island Institute connects Luke’s Lobster to a number of sustainability projects and funders.
Part of the approach at Luke’s Lobster involves diversifying the seafood products that they buy and sell, which includes expanding their product line to include items such as farmed kelp, eel and scallops, among others. But Holden and Conniff understand that more is needed to protect fisheries — and a key solution is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“As a leader in the industry, we feel as though it’s our role to understand where the hot spots for emissions are in our own supply chain — not just to improve how we do things at Luke’s but to share that information with the rest of the industry,” explains Conniff.
To support this initiative, Sam Belknap, a senior community development officer at the Island Institute who is also a third-generation lobsterman, connected Luke’s Lobster with a consulting firm to assess the carbon footprint throughout each step of the business’s operations, from the moment a lobster is taken from the ocean to the moment it is served on a dinner plate. The assessment will initially look at the general carbon footprint of harvesting crab and lobster, which will be more broadly applicable to others in the industry. “Once you have a full supply chain analysis, there are pieces of it that are transferable without having to redo an entire analysis for another seafood company,” explains Belknap.
Once the general carbon footprint analysis is complete, Luke’s Lobster will then do more specific analyses of their own operations. Belknap notes that this analysis will also help the company identify ways to reduce costs. For example, investing in solar panels along the wharf may be expensive initially, but it will reduce energy costs over time. “It’s good not just for the environment, but for business longevity,” Belknap explains.
Luke’s Lobster is not alone in its desire to reduce its carbon footprint. Many of the fishing co-ops along the Portland Pier wharf and beyond, including Boothbay and Tenants harbors, have been informally collaborating to share green energy practices, with the mutual vision of being responsible stewards of their industry and the ocean. As of May 2021, Luke’s Lobster relies on 100% renewable energy in facilities it controls, and many local fishing co-ops are following suit. Several lobster docks, like the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op, have already gone 100% solar by installing panels on their roofs. Others, like Carter’s Wharf in Boothbay Harbor, are investing in energy-efficiency upgrades, and still others, like Tenants Harbor Fishermen’s Co-op, are trialing 20% biodiesel, made from upcycled restaurant fry oil, for their boat engines.
“I’m really excited about the ability to take progress like that and share it, and to work with others to make sure that kind of progress is mirrored elsewhere in the industry,” says Conniff. “We are going to win or lose the fight against climate change together. There’s no competition in this fight and the more we can share what works, the faster everyone is going to benefit from a reduction in the overall carbon footprint.”
Story by: Michelle Hampson (July 2021)
Image: Solar array on the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op. | Credit: Island Institute.