Eat fish in the last few days? Unless you fished it yourself, chances are it wasn’t from the United States. Today, 91 percent of the seafood that we eat comes from abroad, according to Paul Greenberg, author of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.
You could assume that maybe this has to do with demand, that the supply of local seafood isn’t enough. And yet, surprisingly enough, one-third of the seafood that Americans catch gets sold to other countries. What gives?
Greenberg calls this the “fish swap.”
“What we’re doing is we’re sending the really great, wild stuff that we harvest here on our shores abroad, and in exchange, we’re importing farm stuff that, frankly, is of an increasingly dubious nature,” Greenberg told Terry Gross in an NPR interview. “We export millions of tons of wild, mostly Alaska salmon abroad and import mostly farmed salmon from abroad. So salmon for salmon, we’re trading wild for farmed.”
Our consumption of imported seafood certainly has its consequences for us and those abroad. As a country, the United States’ biggest seafood consumption is shrimp; the average American eats more shrimp per capita than both tuna and salmon combined. But where does that shrimp come from? Right now, the largest shrimp producer for the nation is Thailand, a country whose fishing industry is linked to human trafficking and slave labor.
Then there’s the question of carbon footprint. “A certain amount of Alaska salmon gets caught by Americans in Alaska, sent to China, defrosted, filleted, boned, refrozen and sent back to us. How’s that for food miles?” Greenberg says. Not so local anymore, is it?
Greenberg’s point in his book is that Americans need to eat more American seafood, but that also requires a change in thinking. Americans’ three major complaints, are “One, I donít want to touch it. Two, I donít know how to cook it. And three, I donít want it smelling up my kitchen,” Greenberg told the Washington Post. Which is why most of what we consume is white, bland fish that ends up coming from abroad.
There’s also room for industry to do a lot of work as well, requiring†”the establishment of a working relationship with salt marshes, oyster beds, the natural flow of water from river to sea, and the integrity of the ocean floor.”
What changes can you make? If you do eat fish, don’t just make sure you’re eating local, but make sure you’re using the whole fish. According to the†UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Americans waste about 30 percent of the seafood they purchase. So start thinking about “whole fish cooking;” learn how to make†fish head soup perhaps?
Photo Credit: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble