More than 85% of the seafood Americans eat is imported

Salmon caught from Alaskan waters, circa 1955. Things have changed in the past half-decade: Americans are eating more exported fish, and sending more American fish abroad.

Image of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood
Author: Paul Greenberg
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2014)
Binding: Hardcover, 320 pages

Once upon a time, America relied on its own shores for seafood. The state of New York was famous for their fresh oysters; Louisiana and Mississippi were famous for their shrimp. The clean coastal waters allowed us to farm our own stuff. But things have changed.

"More than 85 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported," says Paul Greenberg, author of "American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood".  

Greenberg says the biggest shift has been the exchange of oysters for foreign shrimp. Americans used to be able to farm and bring in billions of pounds of oysters per year. But we then lost our natural productive estuaries and traded them for foreign ones. Now, Americans eat more pounds of shrimp per year than tuna and salmon combined.

Although the majority of our seafood is imported, America fisheries export about one-third of what they catch.

"Primarily, it’s Alaska. They send tons of salmon," says Greenberg. "In fact, we actually send as much salmon abroad as we import. The only thing is, we are sending all the wild salmon abroad, and importing all their farmed stuff."

A consequence? Since we are not eating from our own waters, Greenberg says we aren’t taking great care of them -- one reason we have seen so much environmental degradation since the 1950s. However, Greenberg says there has been more hope since the Clean Water Act was passed in the early 1970s.

"We have seen a marked improvement in water quality," says Greenberg. "But the problem is, we’ve turned our markets around so much that we can’t even really seem to figure out how to get our own fish back onto our plates."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood
Author: Paul Greenberg
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2014)
Binding: Hardcover, 320 pages

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