Hot-Spot Analysis and Scenario-Driven Life Cycle Assessment of Authenticated Greek PDO “Avgotaracho Mesolongiou”

Hot-Spot Analysis and Scenario-Driven Life Cycle Assessment of Authenticated Greek PDO “Avgotaracho Mesolongiou”

1. Introduction

The observed climate change (CC) is causing the global surface temperature to increase, provoking changes in the earth’s ecosystem. According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the accelerating way that CC is upscaling is promoted by human activities [1]. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions play a crucial role in the impact of CC. Almost one third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions are attributed to the food chain [2]. Reversely, CC affects food production in various ways and adaptation measures are necessary [3]. Other important factors that impose pressure on the ecosystem are population growth, food consumption patterns, and food production increase. Consequently, the Earth is facing a triple crisis, not only with CC but also biodiversity loss and pollution [4]. Nowadays, the reported biodiversity loss rates are the highest in history, which is attributed to food systems and the extensive land-use change. Moreover, food production also has a negative impact on the atmosphere as well as terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, with severe implications for human health as well as wild species [5,6,7]. However, more than half of carbon emissions are captured by terrestrial and marine ecosystems; thus, their protection is vital in battling CC [8]. Moreover, the disruption to biodiversity directly affects human survival and is strongly related to prosperity, while the loss of biodiversity decreases the ability of ecosystems to absorb GHG [9,10,11].
GHG emissions related to fish production, either farmed or caught, is 4% of total anthropogenic emissions [12], while the increase in population has increased the demand for fish products. Based on different scenarios, the projected increase of fish demand by 2030 will be covered either by a sudden growth in aquaculture or an increase in fisheries capture productivity [13]. Nevertheless, industrial scale fishing constitutes a big threat for marine biodiversity and largely affects marine ecosystems due to overfishing, habitat destruction, deserted fish gear, and bycatch [14,15,16,17,18,19,20]. Furthermore, active wild-caught seafood is an energy-intensive method while passive wild-caught seafood relies on more sustainable methods as less bycatch is produced, and less fuel is utilized [21,22]. Although fish production is highly dependent on fish gear, it directly affects the marine ecosystem as it limits resources and occasionally disturbs the seabed. Indirect pressure is posed by the aquaculture of carnivorous species [23,24]. To an extent, waste production by aquaculture activities increases as well. The main sources of waste in aquaculture are (a) feed, (b) chemicals, and (c) pathogens [25]. Aside from providing seafood, ocean capture produces significant carbon dioxide emissions and stores heat. As such, the carbon sink capacity has been exceeded, and the ocean’s chemistry has altered, resulting in a 30% increase in acidification. The consequences of climate change to the oceans already observed are sea-level rise, water temperature warming, and deterioration in marine biodiversity [26].
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a well-established method for capturing the consequences of the fishing sector on CC, as well as the environmental impact of products in general [27]. To this end, LCA publications for the fishing sector have significantly increased in the last decade [28]. Early LCAs on farmed fish pointed out that feed production exhibits the largest environmental burden in their life cycle [29,30,31,32] as well as the energy used to sustain water quality [31,33]. More recent LCA studies on fish farming highlighted feed as the most impactful process of aquaculture [34,35,36,37]. LCAs on the fish life cycle, including production processing and consumption, displayed production as the most impactful stage [38,39,40], while a strong dependency between impact calculations and species farmed was displayed [37]. In fishery capture, LCA is still evolving to address crucial environmental sustainability factors more efficiently. Main factors that are challenging to depict are, for example, plastic (or any synthetic substance) pollution, or CC effect on fisheries. Moreover, deficit inventories of fishing hinge on the evolution of LCA when applied in the fishing sector [28]. In this direction, quite significant publications led to the formation of several Ecoinvent datasets [41,42,43]. Fish stocks are perpetual, and their management requires preassessment of their capacity to regenerate. Methodological issues regarding LCA implementation for wild fish caught is fish stock-management-related and research progressed in this direction [44].
The Greek fish industry does important work by providing both high-quality and large quantities of fresh seafood. This is because Greece has an extensive coastline, thus, fishing constitutes an important socio-economy activity, represented by 16,000 fishing boats in the Greek fleet, and 0.2 million tons of fish production in 2018. Greece is among the five EU member states that produce three-quarters of the total aquaculture production, both in quantity and value [45,46]. Based on the socio-economic importance of small scale and recreational fishing, it is important for fishing activity to be implemented under regulations to sustain fish stocks in Greek seas [47], also supporting its potentials for sustainable development [48]. Seabass and seabream are quite important fish species for the Mediterranean Sea, where 97% of world production comes from [49]. Production of seabass and seabream in Greek fish farms was environmentally assessed from “cradle to gate” using LCA. More specifically based on primary data from producers, the feed production process exhibited the highest impact while the importance of feed conversion rate is also highlighted [50,51,52]. A “gate to gate” approach for seabass and meagre production focused on packaging potential for GHG neutrality [53].
Avgotaracho Mesolongiou, a high-quality product, is the Greek protected designation of origin bottarga from Missolonghi–Etoliko. The traditional fishing technique was registered in the intangible cultural heritage of Greece as traditional craftmanship practiced by local cooperatives [54]. The production of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou requires only locally sourced materials and natural means [55]. These attribute unique characteristics as depicted from isotopic- and DNA-based analyses and distinguish it from other bottarga [56,57,58] depicted in the high-resolution melting (HRM) technique [59]. Existing LCAs focus on extensive and/or intensive aquaculture techniques and fishery capture of wild fish. To the best of our knowledge, bottarga production has not been environmentally assessed yet within the existing literature.
This study aims to apply the LCA methodology to depict the environmental impact of authenticated Greek PDO “Avgotaracho Mesolongiou” and identify the hotspots of the overall production process. Avgotaracho Mesolongiou is produced from the roe of Mugil cephalus that are caught in permanent fish-catching facilities that are constructed in the lagoon complex of Missolonghi–Etoliko and are among the fish species harvested. The extracted fish are wild and are spawning in the lagoon, thus, they are fed naturally. The waste produced from the infrastructure of fish-catching facilities is further analyzed for alternative end-of-life management. The alternative scenario for waste management is compared with the baseline scenario using the LCIA. The calculations were conducted in Simapro (version, utilizing the recipe midpoint (H), and the inventory was compiled using the datasets of the Ecoinvent database [60,61,62].

3. Results

3.1. Avgotaracho Mesolongiou Hotspot Analysis

The inputs presented in Table 5 were used to calculate the baseline impact assessment, characterized and normalized factors, of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou with the help of Simapro software and ReCiPe midpoint (H) methodology for 18 impact categories. The normalized impact scores, displayed in Figure 2, based on the average global citizen emissions for one year, help depict the significance of the calculated impact within each category. As exhibited in Figure 3, human carcinogenic toxicity, freshwater, and marine ecotoxicity impact scores stand out among the 18 impact categories. More specifically, 50% of the total normalized score is attributed to human carcinogenic toxicity, 25% to freshwater ecotoxicity, and 18% to marine ecotoxicity, while freshwater eutrophication accounts for 2% of the total normalized scores.

Within these categories, the impact of seven processes exhibits the biggest influence. Metallic traps are clearly the most impactful process, assigned 71.4% of the total normalized impact score. More specifically, metallic traps contribute 60%, 88%, and 89% to human carcinogenic toxicity, freshwater, and marine ecotoxicity, respectively. Moreover, cast iron and steel used in boat engines account for 9.5% of the total impact score while concrete contributed another 5.6% in the total normalized impact. Consequently, the fish extraction stage is clearly the most impactful stage of Avgotaracho life cycle, which is further burdened by poor waste management. More specifically, largely due to wood open burning (4.9%), waste materials treatment of fish extraction stage account for 5.5% of the total normalized impact score.

At the processing stage packaging materials of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou, wax, plastic film, and paper account for 2% in total of normalized impact scores. While wastewater disposed in the lagoon accounts for 30% of freshwater eutrophication impact. Quite importantly, transport accounts for 4% of the total normalized impact score, possessing 3.5% of human carcinogenic toxicity impact, 3.2% of freshwater, and 14% of marine ecotoxicity. Overall, the life cycle of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou affects mainly human health due to the use of metallic traps and the ecotoxicity of aquatic ecosystems.

The characterization scores of processes are summed per stage and per impact category and presented in Figure 3. More specifically, in the fish extraction stage, the impact from plastic, concrete, metallic traps, wooden poles, boats, and the waste streams of plastic, wood, and aluminum were added. Accordingly, the roe processing stage includes washing water, packaging materials (wax, plastic film, paper), processing facility, and wastewater, while the transport and retail sum up the impact of retail electricity and heat as well as the transportation. As displayed in Figure 3, the impact is unequally allocated between the stages of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou life cycle. The fish extraction stage is the most impactful, contributing more than 78% of impact per stage on average. Especially in human carcinogenic toxicity, which was proven to be the most impactful category based on normalized scores, 92% of its impact is attributed to fish extraction stage as well as 95% to both freshwater and marine ecotoxicity. The roe processing stage contributes the most in marine eutrophication due to uncontrolled disposal of wastewater, as well as to water consumption due to the use of washing water and ice.

3.2. Comparison of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou Baseline Scenario to Improved Waste Treatment Methods

The hotspot analysis exhibits the impact on human carcinogenic toxicity, freshwater, and marine ecotoxicity with a significant contribution of waste stream’s treatment. As such, the baseline scenario for waste treatment is compared to controlled treatment options for their environmental impact as displayed in Figure 4. More specifically, plastic and aluminum disposal in sanitary landfills were replaced by recycling, waste wood open burning by municipal incineration, and wastewater disposal by wastewater treatment. As a result, the improved waste treatment scenario exhibits a 12% on average improvement in each impact category. Most significantly, human carcinogenic toxicity decreased by 8% while freshwater and marine ecotoxicity remained almost the same. More specifically, waste wood treatment impact on human carcinogenic toxicity decreased from 1 × 10−3 for open burning to 7.6 × 10−5 for municipal incineration. Moreover, wastewater impact on freshwater eutrophication decreased from 1 × 10−4 for uncontrolled disposal to 1 × 10−5 for the average wastewater treatment. Furthermore, waste plastic treatment impact decreased by 14% when recycled compared to sanitary landfill disposal, while metallic trap treatment imposes a slightly higher impact when recycled in relation to sanitary landfill. Most specifically, aluminum recycling imposed a burden in 6 out of 18 impact categories, on human carcinogenic toxicity, freshwater, and marine ecotoxicity, among others.
The impact contribution per life cycle stage is displayed in Figure 5 for improved waste treatment in the Avgotaracho Mesolongiou life cycle. Fish extraction stage impact was improved by more than 1% and accounts for 77% on average per impact category. Most significant improvement is spotted in water consumption, in which controlled wastewater treatment imposes a positive impact while municipal incineration of wood waste results in a tenfold improvement in overall normalized impact score. More specifically, wastewater impact decreased from 0.6% to 0.1% and waste wood impact from 6% to 0.6% of the overall normalized score.

The fish extraction stage’s potential to improve was larger since three major waste streams were attached to this stage, while roe processing produced only the wastewater stream, and transport and retail stage had no waste stream. The resulting on average improvement per impact category is almost 5%, from 81.8% for baseline scenario fish extraction, to 77.1% when improved waste treatment is implemented. Fish extraction impact decreased in 16 out of 18 impact categories while in human carcinogenic toxicity, a 52% decrease was observed for the fish extraction stage due to improving waste wood treatment. On the other hand, an improvement in the roe processing stage is observed in freshwater eutrophication and water consumption due to proper treatment of wastewater.

3.3. Sensitivity Analysis

In the section of sensitivity analysis, a further analysis is carried out in respect to specific inputs of the inventory that have been assumed during the inventory analysis and are likely to influence the outcome. In the Avgotaracho Mesolongiou life cycle, materials used in the fish extraction stage exhibit the largest influence. Moreover, research on the literature on aluminum and wood used in traditional facilities might justify certain variations that were simplified during the Section 2.3.6. As such, in the following sections, a sensitivity analysis is conducted in respect to metallic traps radius of traditional facilities as well as the placement of wooden poles on the fence of traditional facilities.

3.3.1. Radius of Metallic Traps

Aluminum quantities used in metallic traps in the traditional fish-catching facilities, which account for 26.7% of the total aluminum used in the fish extraction stage, were calculated based on assumptions made for their radius. The Avgotaracho Mesolongiou inventory assumed a 3 cm radius. As such, the system is tested for radii of 2 and 4 cm and the results are displayed in Figure 6. The largest variation is exhibited in freshwater and marine ecotoxicity as well as human carcinogenic toxicity impacts. More specifically, freshwater and marine ecotoxicity impact may decrease by 12% for a 2 cm radius while it can increase by 20% for a 4 cm radius, while human carcinogenic toxicity can potentially decrease by 8% for a 2 cm radius and increase 13% for a 4 cm radius. On the other hand, land use was only slightly influenced by the change in aluminum quantity; there is a 6% average improvement when using 2 cm radius metallic traps, while almost 10% is the increase in impact on average per category when using a 4 cm radius.

3.3.2. Wooden Pole Placement

The wooden poles are supporting the fence in traditional fish-catching facilities and are placed every 30–40 cm. To calculate the amount of wood used, a 35 cm placement was assumed. The influence of assuming 30 cm and 40 cm placement of wooden poles is examined and the results are displayed in Figure 7. As a result, land use has been majorly influenced; the potential decrease using a 40 cm placement is almost 10%, while a 30 cm placement imposed a 13% increase. The average improvement potential per category is 0.5% when using a 40 cm placement, while 0.6% is the potential to increase impact per category when using a 30 cm placement.

4. Discussion

Hotspot analysis of the Avgotaracho Mesolongiou life cycle exhibits a large impact on human carcinogenic toxicity, and freshwater and marine ecotoxicity. Human carcinogenic toxicity impact occurs mainly due to chromium (VI) emissions to water as well as airborne emissions of formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), as displayed in Table A2. More specifically, more than 50% of chromium (VI) emissions are attributed to aluminum production, while concrete, cast iron, steel, and waste wood open burning are also significant sources. Actually, Cr(VI) is used as a minor additive to aluminum alloys and is very common in ferroalloys and wood furniture [74,75]. Moreover, the emitted formaldehyde, the product of incomplete wood burning, [76] and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [77,78] are both sourced from waste wood open burning. As a matter of fact, both compounds, formaldehyde and PAH, were reported as carcinogens [79,80]. The second most impactful category is freshwater ecotoxicity, mainly attributed to copper ion, zinc (II), vanadium, chromium (VI), and nickel (II) being emitted into water, as exhibited in Table A3. Copper ion emissions account for more than 80% of freshwater ecotoxicity sourced from aluminum production. Similarly, marine ecotoxicity is attributed to the same emitting factors and copper ion accounts for more than 90% of marine ecotoxicity. Furthermore, freshwater eutrophication is the fourth most important impact category due to the levels of phosphate, COD, and BOD being emitted. More specifically, the uncontrolled disposal of wastewater to the lagoon is responsible for all the localized effect of freshwater eutrophication. Globally, aluminum production is responsible for phosphate, COD, and BOD emissions in water, as presented in Table A5. Phosphate emissions to water was mainly attributed to aluminum production and is related to the refining process [81].
Life cycle assessment of aquaculture techniques demonstrate the high impact of feed production and energy use while infrastructure was the least impactful and influenced mostly marine toxicity and energy demand. The most influenced impact categories of aquaculture LCAs were land use, water consumption, and eutrophication potential, mainly attributed to feed production and energy use [37]. However, the depicted hotspots of aquaculture are not considered relevant to Avgotaracho Mesolongiou production, due to feeding absence, while no energy is required to sustain water quality in the facilities.
When implementing alternative controlled waste treatment processes, the life cycle impact calculations of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou production decrease, as displayed in Figure 4. More specifically, wood waste municipal incineration instead of open burning results in a significant improvement in human carcinogenic toxicity impact. Formaldehyde and PAH emissions are not major contributors to human carcinogenic toxicity, as presented in Table A6, and account for less than 0.1% of the emissions. The consequent decrease in formaldehyde and PAH corresponds to almost 100%, resulting in an overall 8% decrease in human carcinogenic impact. Furthermore, freshwater eutrophication was also largely improved. The shift between uncontrolled disposal of wastewater to a wastewater treatment process resulted in minimizing the effects on a local level, causing a 26% drop in freshwater eutrophication.

The Missolonghi–Etoliko lagoon complex is a large aquatic ecosystem that is systematically exploited by agricultural cooperatives, taking advantage of the spawning of several fish species. The fish-catching facilities used in the area are steady complex structures based on a traditional fish-catching technique developed in the area. Currently, both traditional and modern fish-catching facilities coexist and generate waste streams that are embodied accordingly to compare their environmental performance. The infrastructure used in Avgotaracho Mesolongiou is proven to be the more impactful component of its life cycle while modern infrastructure accounts for the largest impact due to higher quantities of aluminum. Further confirmation of aluminum influence on the system and the impact on modern facilities was achieved by conducting sensitivity analysis on the input of aluminum in traditional facilities. On the other hand, the variation in wood input mostly influenced land-use impact category.

Other considerations that arise from fishing activities are marine debris, fish stock management, and by-catches. More specifically, it is reported that 120 million tons of plastic are emitted into the oceans and provoke environmental damage. The omitted plastic is dangerous for the life of wild species and may be degraded and release other toxic substances as well as produce microplastics that enter the human food chain [28]. Traditional fish-catching facilities use plastic fences to limit the movement of fish. Fish cooperatives reported that due to tidal streams, parts of the plastic fence can be destroyed and need to be replaced. Regarding by-catches and fish stock management, modern facilities were established to improve these areas. More specifically, the opening between the bars in modern fish-catching facilities was reported to let fish that are not appropriate to pass. However, neither plastic pollution nor fish stock management issues are addressed in this study.

5. Conclusions

The Avgotaracho Mesolongiou impact is just coming from the fish extraction stage, which accounts for 78% of the impact on average per impact category. More specifically, metallic traps used in the fish extraction stage account for 44% per impact category averagely and 70% of total normalized score. The generated waste of fish extraction stage is responsible for 9.5% on average per impact category, while waste wood open burning accounts for 9%, affecting mostly global warming, stratospheric ozone depletion, ozone and fine particulate matter formation, terrestrial acidification, and human carcinogenic toxicity. The processing stage of the Avgotaracho Mesolongiou life cycle is subjected to regulatory requirements. As such, roe processing is not flexible to variations. However, 29% and 44% of the impact of freshwater and marine eutrophication are attributed to the uncontrolled disposal of wastewater.

Although the life cycle of Avgotaracho Mesolongiou is not flexible and, thus, possesses a relatively steady environmental performance, several waste streams in the baseline scenario were not treated appropriately. However, when subjected to controlled treatment processes, they exhibited an improved environmental performance. More specifically, waste wood treatment impact decreased by 87% when subjected to municipal incineration compared to open burning. As a result, human carcinogenic toxicity impact improved by 8% while the average impact per category dropped from 9% to almost 2%. Furthermore, freshwater eutrophication significantly improved when wastewater treatment was used compared to being disposed into the lagoon. In particular, freshwater eutrophication decreased by 92% and marine eutrophication decreased by 14%. The results were robust in terms of which impact categories were mostly influenced. Furthermore, despite several inputs being assumed, the outcome is not subject to large variations, given that assumptions were made on solid ground.

Although a thorough investigation was conducted, further research is required on several aspects of marine activities. The generated waste should be further explored, for example whether their total quantities are gathered or are lost in the sea. This point will determine whether Avgotaracho Mesolongiou production contributes to the marine debris coming from other fishing activities. Furthermore, the sustainability of this technique should be further explored to determine fish stock management issues that may arise. Moreover, it might be valuable to compare traditional fish-catching and processing techniques with conventional fishing methods and modern bottarga processing to determine the methods that are the most sustainable.

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