There are so many variables that affect our nation's fisheries — management regulations, climate changes, global economies and consumer demand just to name a few — that it's nice to know there are some constants to rely on from year to year. One of them is the list of the nation's top fishing ports, specifically the ports that are always at the head of the class.
NMFS released its annual report Fisheries of the United States yesterday, which contains the annual list of the country's top ports. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, again led the nation in volume for the 17th straight year, with landings of 753 million pounds valued at $197 million. According to the report, Alaska pollock made up 88 percent of the Dutch Harbor volume and 46 percent of the value (snow crabs and king crab accounted for another 32 percent of the port's value).
Likewise, New Bedford, Mass., captured the value crown for the 14th consecutive year, recording 130 million pounds worth $379 million. Sea scallops, which continue to drive the port's landings, accounted for 81 percent of the port's landings value.
However, the report contains other constants that are less comforting. It would be refreshing to see a significant rise in the amount of seafood consumed per capita in this country. Likewise, the major imbalance between the amount of seafood imported into the United States and U.S. seafood exported continues.
According to the NMFS report, U.S. commercial landings reached 9.9 billion pounds (up 245 million pounds, or 2.5 percent from 2012) worth $5.5 billion (up $388 million pounds or 7.6 percent). Yet more than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported.
Foreign trade data shows that imports of edible fish products totaled 5.4 billion pounds worth $18 billion. The import volume decreased slightly by 34 million pounds while value increased by $1.4 billion compared with 2012.
Exports meanwhile totaled 3.3 billion pounds valued at $5.6 billion. Volume increased by 69.3 million pounds over 2012 and value increased by $112.8 million.
NMFS says the import total is somewhat deceiving, as it includes U.S.-caught fish that ends up being sent overseas where it's reprocessed and shipped back to be gobbled up by consumers. It also says that encouraging aquaculture development in this country would be one way to lessen dependency on foreign product.
On one hand, it would appear domestic consumers enjoy chowing down on seafood. According to the report, Americans ate 4.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2013, making the United States the world's third largest seafood consumer behind China and Japan.
Then again, domestic per capita consumption sat at 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish, essentially the same as in 2012 (14.4 pounds). For years, per capita consumption has rarely strayed from the 14- to 16-pound mark.
By comparison, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was predicting that in 2014, per capita consumption of beef would fall 4.8 percent from 2013 to 54 pounds. Pork consumption this year is predicted to be 45.9 pounds, and chicken is forecast to hit 83.5 pounds.
That's maddening. Fish and shellfish are a tasty and nutritious source of protein that should be able to rival beef and poultry for prime space on America's dinner plates. There are wonderful seafood marketing efforts afoot throughout the country. I'm looking forward to the day when the annual NMFS report sports seafood per capita consumption statistics that are substantially higher.