No Fish Left Behind

For hundreds of years, Icelanders have relied on the ocean for survival. This is perhaps not surprising as it’s an isolated island surrounded by ocean near the Arctic circle. But as the oceans warm and fisheries continue to be harvested unsustainably, Iceland has been looking for a way to make sure that the fish they do catch are put to the fullest use, for obvious things like food and for plenty of other novel uses as well as they work towards using 100% of their catch.

After harvesting fish for food, most amateur fishers will discard around 60% of the fish by weight. Some might use a portion of this waste for fertilizer in a garden, but otherwise it is simply thrown out. But as the 100% Fish Project is learning, there are plenty of uses for these parts of the fish as well. Famously, cod skin has been recently found to work as skin grafts for humans, while the skin from salmon has been made into a leather-type product and the shells of crustaceans like shrimp can be made into medicine. The heads and bones of fish can be dried and made into soups, and other parts of fish can be turned into things like Omega-3 capsules and dog treats.

While we don’t often feature biology-related hacks like this, out-of-the-box thinking like this is an important way to continue to challenge old ideas, leave less of a footprint, improve human lives, and potentially create a profitable enterprise on top of all of that. You might even find that life in the seas can be used for things you never thought possible before, like building logic gates out of crabs.

Thanks to [Ben] for the tip!

25 thoughts on “No Fish Left Behind

    1. No fish left is a real possibility, with multiple possible causes:
      – Overfishing is a growing problem
      – Anoxic events ( are also spreading
      – Sudden current changes like the AMOC ( did 12.000 years ago, leading to a very sudden climatic change
      – Deep sea fishing and accumulation of continental (particularly plastic) waste disturb deep ecosystems which are typically very very slow to regenerate and crucial to the global health of the oceans

      So, no fish left: sure it can happen. Is it scary ? yes. Who cares ? not much people except those who directly depend on fish.

      Optimism is often a curtain that masks the harsh reality, until it´s shredded to pieces. It´s time to lift the curtain and take strong action to mitigate (that´s the best that possibly can be done, and it will require LOTS of efforts) the effects the industrialization has on the climate.

      Technological optimism is a headlong rush, what is needed is a coordinated, swift, strong political action. And this won´t happen.

    2. Well, in the end that is what’s happening (no fish left). The fact that apparently 60% of the caught fish is to small to eat will only speed up that process, since they don’t have a chance to grow up and have offspring.

      1. They’re not saying that 60% of caught fishes get discarded into a landfill as waste. They’re saying that of the fish that are kept, 60% of that biomass is discarded as waste, as in you cut off 40% of the fish to eat as fillets and 60% of the weight of the fish remains as skin, bones, guts, etc to be thrown away. (and note they qualify that number as for amateur fishers, because they can’t sell the small amounts of leftovers to industries like the commercial fisheries can)

    1. Yes. Bears fertilize forests with partially eaten salmon carcasses. Nothing goes to waste. (Smithsonian article: The Fish and the Forest)

      Unless our waste is going into a landfill. Honestly, someone is going to write a business plan that analyzes the types of already refined materials available in the typical landfill and realize it’s much easier to dig up and separate materials than it is to mine. It has already started in a way. They’re starting to reprocess the Gold Rush mine tailings for rare earth elements and removing a source of heavy metals contamination from the environment. (And the “environmentalists” have protested the idea. I guess because a business wants to make money at doing something good.)

      I guess the question is whether there is less impact using the fish remains compared to the environmental impact it takes to get the other resources we’re using.


        The old Japanese adage “to catch a fish, plant a tree” is also true:
        And trees fertilize the oceans. Fallen leaves degrade,their iron-binding humic and fulvic acid dissolves in water, is then carried by the rivers, and ends up in the ocean fertilizing phytoplankton (which absorbs a huge quantity of carbon dioxide and releases oxygen both in the water and in the air) and feeds the fish.

        1. Old redneck saying. ‘to catch a fish, use an old hand cranked telephone or explosives.’

          The phone is better. you pick out the good ones and the others recover and swim away.

  1. This thinking is entirely wrong and backwards. The problem is overfishing so instead of, like, not doing that, the proposal is to keep right on doing that? but use more of the fish and not “waste” it? So dumb.

      1. If one country is responsible for starving a planet and annihilating the oceans, perhaps diplomacy? It’s the world’s problem at this point. Or sanctions/economic leverage? Or escalation? Not like counties and worlds have not gone to war over resources before. I’m certainly not at all advocating for that, but diplomacy has had some inroads on, say, whaling and more recently pollution and climate change.maybe even a little for human rights. I’m optimistic. Maybe telling them they are starving their worlds largest population but I’m not optimistic about that given how humans have pillaged many, many species into extinction already.
        Trying to throw fish carcasses into the green waste instead of the landfill bin isn’t addressing the issue.

  2. Philip Armour, meatpacking magnate of the late 1800s famously declared that Armour Foods used “every part of the pig but the squeal”, making everything from (actual) pigskin to glue. The rest of the food industry extracts every useful component they can as a matter of course (and in the last few decades, the avoidance of substantial waste charges). It’s neither novel nor noble, just economics, and the professional fisheries already do most of it. Of course if it’s from Iceland it’ll have some catchy Ikea-esque names wrapped around it.

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