Stickleback Fish Co: Not chilled about CO2

Fears about over-fishing have long stalked the global seafood industry. Fierce battles over catch quotas and discards, reports of falling cod stocks, and concerns about the ability of trawler nets to ‘sweep’ whole areas clean, are testament to the need to manage our oceans sustainably. With influential television programmes like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet helping to shape public consciousness of the issues, fishing industry operators are under increasing pressure to act, not just as harvesters, but also as stewards of the marine environment.

But what happens after the fish are landed? How do we ensure that the transport, processing and packaging side of the industry is also sustainable? This is an area that is far less understood, and each part of the supply chain must play its part in the journey from port to plate.

“Like everything, these schemes are only as strong as the policing.” The financial incentive to mislabel or cheat the system can be strong. “It’s a bit like Gressingham Duck. I know it’s a slight exaggeration but every restaurant in the world has Gressingham duck on the menu, but there aren’t that many Gressingham ducks.” Inspections play a vital role in ensuring everybody plays by the rules.

Stickleback are keen to manage their ethical footprint across their whole operation, but technology-wise, the transport side is tricky, right now. Electric vehicles are not yet capable of powering refrigeration effectively, and although bio-fuels are an option, they are expensive.  However, Stickleback has made some big investments. In 2019, they invited Low Carbon Workspaces to collaborate with them to find ways to drive greater energy efficiencies in their refrigeration process.

“We wanted to expand the area and thought this was a chance to look at everything afresh. One of the things that became apparent was the carbon emissions from our refrigeration extractor fans.”

Within their warehouse, Stickleback’s fish processing area has three sections – a production area for sorting, slicing and general preparation; a walk-in cold-room for storing fresh product and a walk-in freezer.

 “Low Carbon Workspaces helped us to identify that we had a problem with the positioning of the condensing units, which extract the heat. Because they were located inside the warehouse, this meant we had heat build-up and the condensing units were having to work twice as hard to effectively re-cool the air.”

With the assistance of a £5,000 grant, they replaced the condensers with more modern, and efficient units and moved them outside to deliver a double bonus. “In one hit, we increased our refrigeration space by 25% and reduced our energy bills by 50%.” This has cut Stickleback’s CO2 emissions by 4.7 tonnes a year.

“The great thing is, the money we save allows us to invest in other areas,” says Gordon.

The company have purchased a machine to crush all of the polystyrene packaging that arrives into the warehouse, which is then recycled into new polystyrene or used as insulation. “That’s 70 tonnes a year no longer going to landfill.”

They have also used their savings to replace all the warehouse lighting with low energy LEDs.  Meanwhile, all the fish-wash – scales, bones and the like are taken away, fed into an anaerobic digester to create bio-fuels.

“I’m really proud of the way Stickleback Fish are approaching sustainability.  We want to leave the world intact for future generations. There’s still so much more can do, but we are committed to doing it, and we think that will translate into a win-win for everybody.”


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