In this land of the (disappearing) cod, new federal statistics underscore just how great a seafood transformation the U.S. has undergone in the last three decades: A whopping 91 percent of the seafood U.S. consumers eat is now imported.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statistics, up five percent from a year ago, probably do not have a lot to do with the plummeting number of cod and flounder off New England's coast - populations so low the federal government declared a disaster for fishermen on Sept. 13. But it does highlight the continued lack of federal and state oversight to ensure the seafood consumers are eating is the species they think it is and from the country they think it was processed in.
Last year, my colleague, Jenn Abelson, and I wrote a series about widespread mislabeling going on in the seafood industry, a problem amplified by the long, confusing journey fish take from sea to plate. Many times consumers order one fish and get a less expensive another instead - a case of economic fraud that can also have major implications for human health.
The top three imports are shrimp, canned tuna, and tilapia fillets. Most imports are farmed safood and some were U.S. caught products sent overseas for processing. The report notes that the average America now eats about 15 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, slightly less than in 2010. Yet the U.S. is second only to China in seafood consumption - making oversight a critically important area.
The report also notes U.S. seafood landings reached a 17-year high, as some fish stocks rebuild and some fetch more value in the marketplace. Much of the increase is due to higher catches far away from New England: Gulf menhaden, Alaska pollock, and Pacific hake, also known as whiting.
For the 12th consecutive year, New Bedford had the highest valued catch, due mostly to the sea scallop fishery, one of few bright spots in New England fisheries. The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor-Unalaska led the nation with the highest amount of fish landed – primarily pollock – for the 15th consecutive year.
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