Artist's rendering of the proposed Nordic Aquafarms land-based salmon facility in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Nordic Aquafarms

Climate change and unprecedented environmental destruction are at our doorstep, as the newly released Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biosecurity and Ecosystem Services report clearly shows. Resource efficient food production must be a part of our answer to reverse this destruction. Awareness of the footprint of what we consume should be a key consideration when we make our choices for the future.

The food we consume requires a lot of water to produce. A quarter pound of meat that goes into a hamburger takes 460 gallons of water to produce. A pound of bread takes close to 200 gallons of water. A pound of eggs takes 20 gallons of water. A pound of potatoes takes 100 gallons of water.

Another perspective is the CO 2 footprint of what we consume. One serving (four ounces) of beef has an 8.2-pound CO2 footprint. Cheese has a 4-pound CO2 footprint per serving and for pork it is 3.6 pounds. Vegetables would give the lowest footprint, so eating more greens helps the environment.

A final perspective is land-use. Average yield figures from US statistics show that about 13,000 pounds of corn can be produced per acre per year. One can produce about 4,000 pounds of wheat per acre or raise less than one cow, which produces about 430 pounds of beef, per acre. The statistics may vary based on location and source, but the figures are broadly representative.

The Nature Conservancy recently pointed to land-based finfish farming as one of the top three high-impact investment areas in its report “Catalyzing the Blue Revolution: How investors can turn the tide on Aquaculture.”

To raise awareness of how important sustainable aquaculture can be in our future food production mix, I would like to share three examples from the proposed salmon facility in Belfast, with its 35-acre effective footprint as a good example:

One gallon of local freshwater is used per 4-ounce serving of fish. This is less than 1 percent of the water consumption a similar serving of beef would require.

Our facility will produce 1.6 pounds of CO2 per serving of fish. This is significantly lower than most meats that consumers can buy in the store, and 1/3 the level of trans-ocean imports of most fresh seafood. Shrimp, salmon and tuna top the list of growing seafood import volumes in the USA.

The salmon farm in Belfast will produce 1.7 million pounds of gutted fish per acre per year. Yes, you read correctly. Alternative foods have dramatically lower yields. Innovative designs, depth of tanks, and continuous flow of fish through the system enable high yields, all while maintaining high fish welfare standards for salmon. Keep in mind that salmon is a schooling fish and tank density is continuously optimized for the fish to thrive.

Given that Maine has 17.6 million acres of forest that covers 77 percent of the state, putting 35 acres of previously logged forest to use in an area with existing industrial activities, should be an easy resource decision for Maine.

Producers who apply cutting-edge practices can now also provide a much higher level of protection to local ecosystems than in the past. In land-based facilities, antibiotics, pesticides, and growth hormones have no place in daily production. For those who have tasted quality land-based seafood, they know these products are delicious and healthy.

Some would argue that meat and fish should be eliminated from our diet. The reality is that demand for protein will continue to grow in the US with population growth. Meeting this demand by adding new resource-efficient food production systems will provide one of many needed contributions to stop the escalation of environmental challenges, while growing new jobs for the future in a state with limited job growth.

It will also enable displacement of imports, and thus strengthen food security with fully traceable domestic products. For Maine to succeed in a rapidly evolving competitive landscape, scale of production, time-to-market and a quality workforce will be important.

For those who are not ready to put insects on their menu or to go vegan, locally produced or caught seafood are green and healthy choices.

Erik A. Heim is president of Nordic Aquafarms, Inc.