The Surprising Sources of Your Favorite Seafoods
In 2011, Americans ate 15 pounds of fish and shellfish per person. While our seafood consumption still lags far behind that of poultry, pork, and beef, it does add up to nearly 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, making the United States second only to China in seafood consumption.
In 2011, we imported about 91 percent of the seafood consumed here in the United States. However, a small portion of these imports were caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the United States. The remaining 9 percent was produced entirely domestically.
About half the seafood we eat is wild-caught; the other half is farm-raised, that is, from aquaculture. There's a bit of a grey area here, too, though—some "wild-caught" seafood actually starts its life in a hatchery. For example, salmon and red drum are often produced in hatcheries and then released to the wild to be caught. The same can be said for some mussel, clam, and oyster populations—in many cases, larval shellfish, or 'spat,' is reared in a hatchery and then planted in a natural setting to be harvested later. On the other hand, some "farm-raised" seafood such as yellowtail is caught as juveniles in the wild then raised to maturity in captivity.
Why does it matter? It's important to know the source of your seafood because not all of them measure up the same. Some seafood is caught or farm-raised under regulations that protect the health of the marine environment, the animals that live within it, and the folks that eat it; however, some is not. By buying seafood from reputable sources, you're helping to conserve our ocean resources and support the economies and communities that ensure our seafood supply is safe, healthy, and sustainable.
The Top Ten List
Our top ten favorite seafoods in the United States haven't changed much in the past several years, but you might be surprised at where they come from. See how much you know about the source of your seafood!
By far, shrimp remains our favorite type of seafood — Americans ate more than 4 pounds of shrimp per person in 2011. Although our shrimp fisheries are among the largest and highest valued in the United States, over 90 percent of the shrimp eaten in the United States is farmed overseas. In fact, shrimp makes up more than 30 percent of all seafood we import (by value). We mainly import shrimp from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and China, followed by Ecuador and Mexico.
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We eat about 2.6 pounds of canned tuna per person per year, making canned tuna our second favorite seafood and one of our top seafood imports. Canned tuna can include several species of tuna —bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tunas are typically canned as "light" tuna; albacore is canned as "white" tuna. All the tuna that we eat is wild-caught; however, tuna aquaculture is moving from the research stage to the commercially-viable stage as scientists learn the production cycle from egg to harvestable fish. More than half the canned tuna we import comes from Thailand, with smaller amounts from the Philippines, Vietnam, Ecuador, and other countries.
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Rich in omega-3s and flavor, it's no wonder salmon has been one of our top three favorite seafoods for nearly a decade. With increased availability of fresh and frozen farmed, wild, and hatchery-reared salmon, access to this healthy, delicious seafood has increased. We ate nearly 2 pounds of salmon per person in 2011. To feed this demand, we import a half a billion pounds of salmon each year to supplement the supply that comes from our valuable commercial fisheries from Alaska to California and salmon farms in Maine and Washington State. Two-thirds of the salmon we eat is farmed, mainly imported from Norway, Chile, and Canada, with a small amount grown domestically. One-third of the salmon eaten in the United States is wild-caught, primarily in Alaska; and about half of this catch is from hatchery-reared fish released into the wild. BACK TO TOP
We eat 1.3 pounds of pollock per person—most of this is wild-caught in Alaska. In fact, the Alaska pollock fishery is one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. It's considered one of the best managed, too. Pollock is commonly used in surimi (imitation crab) and fried fillet sandwiches, but is also sold as fillets and is a great substitute for cod. BACK TO TOP
Americans eat an increasing amount of the mild-tasting, versatile tilapia each year - nearly 1.3 pounds per person in 2011. There's little to no commercial wild harvest of tilapia today; the tilapia we eat comes from aquaculture. In fact, tilapia is likely the first fish that was ever farmed. China supplies most of the tilapia in our markets, followed by Ecuador, Indonesia, and Honduras. We also farm some tilapia domestically.
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A freshwater fish related to catfish, pangasius is climbing the chart of our favorite seafoods, up three spots from its 2010 ranking. We ate 0.6 pounds of pangasius per person in 2010, and demand for this moderately-priced fish is likely to continue to grow. Like U.S.-produced catfish, pangasius are farm-raised in ponds or cages, primarily in Vietnam, although production is growing in China, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.
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Farm-raised domestic catfish has been one the top ten most frequently consumed seafood products in the United States for nearly 20 years. Catfish refers to channel catfish, native to the Southeast. U.S. Catfish farmers grow this mild, sweet-tasting fish in freshwater ponds, mainly in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Although domestic production of catfish has decreased lately (down to 334 million pounds in 2011), it is still the top aquaculture product grown in the United States. Note that at the market, domestically grown catfish should be identified as 'catfish' and as a farm-raised product of the United States. Imported catfish should be identified by the country of origin and the market name for the species of catfish being sold. For example, catfish species raised in Asian countries should be called pangasius, basa, swai, or tra to distinguish it from U.S. farm-raised catfish. BACK TO TOP
We eat a lot of rich, flavorful crab here in the United States — more than half a pound per person in 2011 — and a lot of it is caught in U.S. waters. From the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Florida, U.S. commercial fishermen harvest several different species of crab including blue, Dungeness, king, snow, and stone crabs. The United States is a major producer of crabs with nearly 370 million pounds valued at greater than $650 million in 2011. We also import crab in a variety of forms ranging from whole crab to frozen, pasteurized, and canned, mostly from Canada, Asia, and South America. BACK TO TOP
We eat about a half a pound of cod per person every year. Two types of cod come from the United States—Atlantic and Pacific cod are closely related, but Atlantic cod is caught in New England and Pacific cod is caught in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Although they can be used interchangeably, Pacific cod yield larger, thicker fillets, and Atlantic cod taste sweeter. Our Alaska fisheries for Pacific cod account for more than two-thirds of the world's Pacific cod supply. We also import some cod from China, Canada, Russia, Iceland, and Norway, some of which is farmed.
There is one commercial cod farm in the United States and researchers are developing more opportunities for domestic cod farming. Watch a video about teaching fishermen in Maine to farm cod. BACK TO TOP
A variety of clam species, both wild-caught and farm-raised in the United States, supply most of the clams we eat. In the United States, natural production of species including surfclams, quahogs, hard clams, and soft clams remains strong and exceeds demand, and farmed production of species such as littlenecks, Manilas, and geoducks is improving and expanding. We also import clams from Asian countries and Canada, which may be a mix of wild-caught and farmed. BACK TO TOP