Good news for the seafood industry as data from NOAA has led the non-profit National Fisheries Institute (NFI) to state Americans ate over a pound more seafood (per capita) in 2017. So now the average red-blooded American puts down about 16 pounds of seafood per year, the majority of which is shrimp, at 4.4 pounds. Salmon and canned tuna round out the top three, but what is promising is that other species seem to be making a dent in the top ten.
2017 US Seafood Consumption (in pounds per capita)
Canned Tuna 2.1
Alaska Pollock 0.78
Swai/Basa/ Pangasius 0.71
Per Capita Consumption: 16.00
Total Top 10: 13.50884098
All Other Species Consumption: 2.491159018
Top 10 as % of Total Consumption: 84%
Source: National Fisheries Institute
These top ten consumed fish and shellfish have seen a 6% drop, meaning other species are starting to take their place. Americans in 2017 averaged nearly 2.5 pounds of seafood not in the top ten. Although there was not much information on what these seafood species are, one obvious to me is the rising popularity of oysters. I greatly enjoy that I can find good quality, relatively local oysters more often in local restaurants along with our even more local clams and lobster.
While it is a good thing that we Americans are eating more seafood, it also means that imports of shrimp and salmon have increased. This is good for the importers, but not good when it comes to how much Americans rely on imported seafood, very little of which is inspected. We have plenty of domestic shrimp and salmon, both wild-caught and farmed in the US. When it comes to the “all other species” category, there is no telling if the American consumer is simply switching imported swai and tilapia for other imports of dubious quality.
Consumers who do not live near the coast are often at the mercy of whatever the supermarket or wholesale club brings in. In looking back on the past year, I think I eat pretty close to the average, if not a little more. I would eat a lot more if I could afford it. However I know that I would eat much less seafood than the American average if I lived somewhere without many seafood options, at my current income level.
The fresh swordfish, haddock, halibut and other species I love would probably be replaced by more affordable fresh (previously frozen) fish like farmed salmon and tilapia – well, maybe not tilapia. My freezer would probably have frozen fillets of cod, haddock or another white fish depending upon what is available, a few boxes of Gorton‘s, and maybe some LoveTheWild trout or striped bass for a fancier option. I would certainly have different cans of tuna on hand as well.
What is promising is there seems to be a growing list of brands in the frozen seafood aisle that cater to consumers who want sustainable, and in some cases, domestic options at a good price-point. Same can be said at many fresh fish markets, where local, sustainable, often underutilized, and even invasive species are being discovered. Social media, for good or ill, has probably played a role in introducing consumers to new seafood. Instagram for instance, is awash with seafood that is both new and familiar to American consumers.
Seafood retailers will provide what the market demands, if consumers ask for domestic shrimp, they will provide it. As Americans eat more seafood, it is important they learn where their fish is coming from so we can become less dependent on imported seafood. Step one, getting Americans to eat more seafood is underway. Step two, getting Americans to eat more American seafood.