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One Man's Opinion: A healthy fish appetite?
By Peter Redmayne
March 01, 2007
Last month fishcrats in Washington, D.C., finally released
their annual "Fisheries of the United States" report. Since
it's 2007, one would think the report would be for 2006, but
it's actually for 2005. Not that long ago, it took the feds six
months or so to compile the data, but now it takes more than a
year. These days the feds obviously have higher priorities than
timely fish stats.
The most closely watched of the myriad numbers in the report
is per capita fish consumption, one of the better yardsticks
the seafood industry measures itself by. In recent years, the
seafood industry has been doing a pretty good job. From 2001 to
2004, per capita seafood consumption rose from 14.8 pounds to
16.6 pounds, an increase of 12 percent. In 2005, though, the
industry took a step backwards, as consumption slipped 2
percent to 16.2 pounds.
So what caused the dip?
One reason was our declining appetite for canned tuna. In
2005, Americans ate 3.1 pounds of canned tuna, down from 3.3
pounds in 2004. Considering all the negative fallout from story
after story on methylmercury and tuna in recent years, this
decline is not surprising.
We also ate a bit less shrimp in 2005, as consumption
slipped from the record of 4.2 pounds, which was set in 2004,
to 4.1 pounds. One reason for the decline may have been the
increase in shrimp prices in 2005, which saw average wholesale
prices rise about 6 percent over 2004.
In spite of the dip in 2005, the long-term outlook for fish
consumption in the United States remains relatively bright,
although there are a few caveats.
First, the demographics of the aging U.S. population are
working in the seafood industry's favor. As Americans get
older, research has shown they eat more seafood. That means the
big baby boom generation, whose ages currently ranges from 43
to 61 years, will be in their peak seafood consumption years
for some time.
Second, continued growth in aquaculture production from
developing countries means there will be a growing supply of
relatively low-priced seafood. Shrimp imports, for example,
jumped 12 percent in 2006, to 1.3 billion pounds. Despite an
antidumping tariff on some of the biggest producers, shrimp
prices remain very attractive to consumers.
Salmon and tilapia imports also continue to grow. In the
case of salmon, imports of farmed Atlantics have increased,
albeit at a much slower rate. In 2006, U.S. farmed salmon
imports were 435 million pounds. Now that salmon prices have
recovered and farmers are enjoying very healthy margins, look
for another spike in imports within the next year or two.
Tilapia imports, on the other hand, are still growing at a
good clip (17 percent in 2006) and prices are steady at
relatively reasonable levels.
On the negative side of seafood consumption, the prices for
most wild species, many of which are already at high levels,
will likely continue to rise over the long term and will dampen
Americans are likely to continue to eat more seafood. The
challenge facing the seafood industry is how to make decent
money selling it to them.
Contributing Editor Peter Redmayne lives in Seattle