The idea of encouraging U.S. consumers to buy locally caught seafood is beginning to get a little publicity in the mainstream press. For example, the New York Times Sunday Review ran an interesting essay by author Paul Greenberg that explores how American consumers have lost their connection with the seafood that U.S. fishermen are harvesting.
“Globalization, that unseen force that supposedly eliminates inefficiencies through the magic of trade,” Greenberg writes, “has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply.”
Greenberg’s new book, “American Catch” explores why so much of the seafood eaten in this country comes from abroad. He examines New York oysters, Gulf of Mexico shrimp and Alaska salmon in an attempt to find out why today 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign and why so much U.S. caught fish ends up in overseas markets.
On Friday, Greenberg appeared in Belfast, Maine, along with Maine seafood advocate Monique Coombs, and Barton Seaver, author and director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, on Friday, presenting an address called “Why We Need to Eat More Local Seafood.”
They’re right, people do need to eat more local seafood. I suspect that the average person who picks up a shrimp ring from their supermarket’s seafood department probably doesn’t know that they’re likely buying foreign farmed shrimp. They just know they’re getting something they enjoy scarfing down for a low price.
Still, more attention must be paid to developing U.S. consumer demand for domestic seafood. Thankfully, campaigns are increasingly being developed and undertaken to establish a greater connection with consumers (see our July cover story for some great examples of marketing programs taking hold around the country).
Educational programs are teaching consumers about how their seafood is harvested and the stringent standards U.S. harvesters adhere to make sure their catch is caught sustainably. They’re learning that buying wild American seafood is a delicious, nutritious and responsibly harvested choice.
Still if more U.S. caught seafood is to remain at home instead of being sent to markets abroad, we must figure out a way to seriously increase seafood consumption in this country.
When I began working for NF in late 1994, per capita seafood consumption that year stood at 15.2 pounds per person. According to the latest NMFS statistics, domestic seafood per capita consumption was 14.4 pounds in 2012, down 0.8 pounds from the 2011 total of 15 pounds.
Per capita beef consumption on the other hand, is predicted to fall to 54 pounds this year.
If we want to U.S. fishermen and fishing communities to thrive, then we have to keep developing ways to make seafood more attractive to American diners, be they the cooking impaired or foodies. The good news is that locally harvested U.S. seafood is a wonderful product that should greatly benefit from strong marketing campaigns.