March 5 marked the start of Lent, a time of fasting, soul searching and repentance for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. And what the burst in the holiday sales season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means the same to the seafood industry.
The 40-day Lenten season, which this year runs from March 5 to Easter Sunday on April 20, dates back to the 4th century, and it has been customary to forego meat ever since. While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the so-called “whitefish” species, such as cod, pollock, flounders, and halibut.
Food Services of America reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year. (Ash Wednesday is so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead to symbolize “that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”)
Overall, Americans ate more seafood during Lent in 2013 than in previous years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. GrubHub, the nation’s top online and mobile food-ordering company which works with nearly 30,000 restaurants in 600 cities, said the number of people eating fish on Fridays increased by 20 percent during Lent last year since 2011.
The Filet-O-Fish sandwich, which was launched by McDonald’s on Good Friday, is made with Alaska pollock and sales top 300 million a year. Nearly 25 percent of the fish sandwiches each year are sold during Lent.
No matter what the seafood favorite, the long Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 60 percent of the wild-caught seafood to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores.