Monday, May 31, 2021

Rant: Being Seafood Adventurous

I've long stated that Americans need to eat more seafood, and that the scientific community advises people to eat seafood twice a week, an annual consumption of 26 pounds of seafood. Fortunately, American seafood consumption has risen in recent years, pre-pandemic, which was a positive sign.

In 2019, Americans consumed about 19.2 pounds annually, still seven pounds less than advised, but higher than prior years. For example, in 2012, American consumed only 14.4 pounds, down from a previous high in 2005 of 16.6 pounds. In comparison, Americans consume about 222 pounds of red meat and poultry each year, so seafood consumption is less than 10% of this consumption. 

The pandemic has hurt seafood consumption during the past year, especially as most Americans commonly ate seafood at restaurants and much less frequently at home. However, now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and people are starting to return to restaurants, hopefully seafood consumption will rise again.  

Besides simply consuming more seafood, people need to be more seafood adventurous, and look beyond the most popular species of seafood. 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. 

For a number of years, about 90% of the seafood consumed by Americans was limited to 10 different types, including Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. However, 2019 saw a significant change in this statistic, as those ten types only constituted 74% of American consumption. That means Americans have been sampling other varieties of seafood, going beyond the usual types, and seeking something different. That's great news! The top three types were still Shrimp, Salmon, and Canned Tuna. 

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!

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