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Towards a sustainable seafood cold chain

February 08, 2023

Towards a sustainable seafood cold chain

Fisheries and aquaculture harvests are highly perishable. They must be handled properly throughout the supply chain (handling, processing, preservation, packaging and storage) to extend shelf-life, ensure food safety, maintain quality and nutritional attributes and avoid losses and wastage. Furthermore, an improved supply chain can help reduce pressure on aquatic resources and foster the sustainability of the sector.

Preservation and processing techniques are based on temperature reduction (chilling and freezing), heat treatment (canning, boiling and smoking), reduction of available water (drying, salting and smoking) and changing of the storage environment (vacuum packaging, modified atmosphere packaging and refrigeration). According to the FAO (UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation), freezing is the main method of preserving fishery and aquaculture products for food purposes, accounting for 63% of all processed aquatic animal production for human consumption.[1]

However, processing methods differ significantly across regions. For instance, in Asia and Africa, the share of aquatic food production preserved by salting, smoking, fermentation or drying is higher than the world average. In 2020, over 50% of the aquatic animal food production destined for human consumption in high-income countries was in frozen form. In contrast, for low-income countries, only 7% was in frozen form, more than 20 percent in cured form and about 70% in live, fresh or chilled form.

The FAO estimates that millions of tonnes of aquatic products are lost every year, despite major progress in processing, refrigeration and transportation. Up to 35% of the global fishery and aquaculture production is either lost or wasted every year. In Africa and Latin America, fisheries production is mainly lost because of inadequate preservation infrastructure and expertise.

In a recent report released jointly by the FAO and UNEP, the authors present several solar photovoltaic-powered solutions for seafood cold chains. Many projects are directed specifically at women, in order to reduce gender gaps[2], [3]:

  • chest freezers for women’s fishing groups in the Solomon Islands, which can store 1,000 kilograms of fish;
  • a freezer lease-to-own scheme for women in the fisheries supply chain in Nigeria, which came with 3 years’ worth of technical support and insurance;
  • a cold chain hub in Kenya that includes an ice flake machine for chilling fish before processing and during transport, and a cold room in which to store fish before bringing it to market.

The 2022 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report is available on the FAO website.


[1] FAO. 2022. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022. Towards Blue Transformation. Rome, FAO.
[2] UNEP and FAO. 2022. Sustainable food cold chains: Opportunities, challenges and the way forward. Nairobi, UNEP and Rome, FAO.
[3] Lela NARGI. Underdeveloped seafood cold chains threaten livelihoods, food security and climate. 23 January 2023.

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