Monday, April 10, 2017

Rant: Be More Seafood Adventurous

"As Mark Kurlansky noted in his oyster-centric history of New York, The Big Oyster, up until the 1920s, the average New Yorker ate annually as many as six hundred local oysters as part of a locally sourced seafood diet of more than thirty-six pounds of fish and shellfish a year—more than double the current per capita level of American seafood consumption. New York oysters were so common as to be considered a poor man’s food, priced at less than a penny apiece."
--American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood by Paul Greenberg

As I mentioned in Friday's postBarton Seaver stated we need to eat different types of seafood species, and not just the top 10 most popular species. I've addressed this issue before in a few different posts but feel the need to discuss it again, providing some updated and additional information.

Let me preface by stating Americans need to eat more seafood in general, and that the scientific community advises you should eat seafood twice a week, an annual consumption of 26 pounds of seafood. Unfortunately, Americans only consume about 15.5 pounds annually, more than ten pounds less than advised. Since 2001, the highest annual seafood consumption was in 2005 with 16.6 pounds and the lowest amount was in 2012 with 14.4 pounds. Now consider the quote above, how New Yorkers once ate over 36 pounds of seafood annually. Why did we stop eating so much seafood?

(I also long for the days when oysters were only a penny a piece, rather then the $2-$4 a piece you find now. The same book also noted that "In the mid-1800s the average New Yorker spent more on oysters than on butcher meat.")

According to Seafood Health Facts, there are between 300 and 500 different species of fish and shellfish sold annually. What an incredible diversity is thus available, and it makes it even more unfortunate when American seafood consumption habits are so limited. In 2014, about 55% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. was limited to three types: shrimp, canned tuna and salmon. And 90% of what is consumed is limited to 10 different types. Let me break down those numbers in more detail.

In 2015, the National Fisheries Institute stated that the top ten seafood species consumed in the U.S. include: Shrimp (4 lbs), Salmon (2.9 lbs), Tuna (2.2 lbs), Tilapia (1.4 lbs), Alaska Pollock (1.0 lbs), Pangasius (.7 lbs), Cod (.6 lbs), Crab (.6 lbs), Catfish (.5 lbs), and Clams (.3 lbs). These Top Ten species constitute about 14.2 pounds of American's annual consumption, with another 1.3 pounds of miscellaneous species. Salmon, Pangasius, and Crab saw an increase in consumption, with Crab moving from 9th place to 8th place

Obviously, these statistics are an average for the entire country and are likely different in certain regions of the country, such as the Northeast. With our proximity to the coast and access to the vast bounty of the sea, our particular seafood consumption habits are probably different from the norm. For example, Lobster might be on our Top Ten species list and Clams, cause of all the fried clams and chowders, could also be in a higher place than 10th. However, it is still clear that even those in the Northeast don't eat enough different species of seafood. We far too often remain with the common and familiar rather than venturing out to something different. Try some mussels, dogfish, sardines, mackerel, fluke, and much more.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. It is why many of those species have quotas, because their populations would be threatened by unregulated fishing. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. With strict quotas on the most common seafood species, it gets harder and harder to make a living by catching those fish. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money. We should cherish our local fishermen and help protect them, especially when it is so easy to do so by simply consuming different types of seafood. Don't you want to help your local community?

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate to the pleasure of whelks and sardines, cobia and mackerel. You will enjoy the tastes if you only give them a chance, especially if you dine at a good restaurant which knows how to properly prepare seafood. For the sake of sustainability, to save our oceans and all of the endangered species, to save our fishermen, this is an excellent choice and one you should seriously consider.

Be more seafood adventurous!

1 comment:

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