« July 2006 Table of Contents
25th Anniversary: Happy 25th, SeaFood Business!
SFB celebrates two and a half decades of covering the seafood industry
By Fiona Robinson
July 01, 2006
Welcome to SeaFood Business ' 25th anniversary celebration!
Join us as we look back at two-plus decades of change in both
the industry and this publication. Stocks of some species have
risen and fallen. New farmed species such as tilapia and basa
have taken over some markets. Family-run businesses have been
handed over to younger generations.
Producers have gone from just putting fish in a box to
branding product and evolving into a marketing-oriented
business. Here's to another 25 years of progress!
Seafood consumption increases
Per-capita seafood consumption increased 4 pounds in 24
years, from 12.8 pounds in 1980 to 16.6 pounds in 2004 (the
most recent figures available).
The list of Americans' favorite seafoods began to change in
1990 as imported farmed product began to dominate supply. That
year, canned tuna was No. 1 on the Top 10 list, followed by
shrimp, cod, pollock, salmon, catfish, clams, flatfish,
scallops and crabs. By 2001, shrimp had replaced tuna as the
most popular seafood, and tilapia appeared on the list for the
first time. Consumers ate 4.2 pounds of shrimp per capita in
2004, fueled by low prices and increased marketing. Tilapia
jumped to the No. 6 spot on the list in 2004, the result of low
prices, consistent supply and increased menu mentions at
U.S. fisheries go up and down; antidumping cases
The boom-and-bust cycles of many domestic fisheries filled
SFB headlines in the early '80s. In 1982 the Alaska salmon
industry had more canned product than it could market, followed
by its largest salmon season in history in 1984. Meanwhile,
the state's king crab fishery was a bust, dropping more than
160 million pounds within four years to almost 17 million
pounds. The state's cod fishery was also coming up short, and
fishing efforts eventually shifted to pollock. By the late
1980s, pollock overproduction forced the market to crash.
North Atlantic cod found its way onto upscale New York City
menus in the late 1980s, and national chains ran big
promotions. But overfishing decimated the fishery, and Atlantic
Canada placed a moratorium on cod fishing in 1992. In
Newfoundland alone, 19,000 fishermen and plant workers were
Groundfish and scallops were in short supply in New England.
Landings of cod, haddock and flounder, the region's "bread and
butter" species for three centuries, hit historic lows. The
region's fishermen were forced to turn to dogfish, skate and
monkfish, niche species that would later become mainstream.
Although some Mid-Atlantic states saw strong blue crab
harvests, domestic crabmeat production fell 43 percent from
1996 to 1999. Packers were unable to compete with cheaper
Gulf fish stocks were in good shape through the '90s, but
net bans and
other regulations took their toll on supply. Some
Florida fishermen turned to niche fisheries like golden
By 2003, Gulf and South Atlantic fishermen, struggling with
increased fuel and labor costs and competition from imported
farmed product, formed the Southern Shrimp Alliance and looked
to trade relief. The SSA's antidumping case, the most
significant filed by a domestic fishery in the past 25 years,
resulted in tariffs on shrimp imports from six countries in
Several other domestic fisheries filed antidumping cases in
an attempt to curb the flow of competitive foreign product.
Tariffs were placed on whole farmed salmon from Norway in 1991,
Chinese crawfish in 1997 and salmon fillets from Chile in
U.S. catfish farms emerged as a steady supply source in the
early 1980s and even launched a marketing campaign in 1987. But
the industry struggled to compete with cheaper imported basa.
This led U.S. catfish farmers to file an antidumping case, and
tariffs were placed on Vietnamese basa imports in 2003.
A flood of farmed imports
In the early 1980s, groundfish imports from Canada and
Japanese surimi were the industry buzz. Buyer demand for steady
seafood supplies at affordable prices bolstered imports of
farmed shrimp, salmon and tilapia
by the mid-1990s.
In the early 1980s, most of the imported shrimp came from
China. Black tigers had taken over the market by 1986, but
Taiwan's shrimp industry crashed when a virus hit the farms in
1988. Production shifted
to Thailand, Indonesia and the
Ecuador became the second-largest supplier of white shrimp
to the U.S. market by 1995. By 2000 the white-spot virus and
economic turmoil contributed to a 50 percent drop in product
from the country. But not to worry - Thailand, China, India,
Vietnam, Ecuador and Brazil filled the void, farming the
faster-growing, more-disease-resistant white shrimp.
Farmed salmon has also been a story of ups and downs. Norway
was a dominant U.S. supplier of farmed salmon in the 1980s and
even set up a Norwegian Salmon Marketing Council in New York
in 1989, spending more than $1 million on salmon promotions.
But when Norwegian salmon was slapped with a tariff in 1991,
the market turned instead to Chile, which became the biggest
supplier of fresh Atlantic salmon fillets by 1997.
Antidumping duties were placed on fresh Chilean salmon in
1998, but the duties were not high enough to interrupt the flow
of product. Consolidation and bankruptcies in the
salmon-farming arena began in 1990 and continue today.
Processors' demand for higher margins, combined with demand
for more consumer-friendly seafood, spurred further processing
of product beyond steaks and fillets. In the 1990s value-added
meant ready-to-eat products, such as marinated seafood, or
ready-to-cook seafood kabobs, salmon burgers, swordfish chops,
seafood sausages and tuna carpaccio. In 2005, breaded-seafood
manufacturers reformulated their products to be trans-fat
Marketing a healthful protein
Seafood's healthful profile and, more specifically, the role
omega-3 fatty acids play in consumers' diet, have been a
regular marketing theme in the industry over the past two
decades. SFB's first coverage of seafood's importance in a
healthy diet appeared in the fall 1982 issue in a story titled
"Seafood-rich diets discovered effective in controlling heart
The first Seafood & Health conference was held in 1985
in Seattle. This gathering of industry professionals, medical
researchers and nutrition educators was repeated 20 years later
in Washington, D.C.
The industry has seen national promotions come and go since
the early 1980s. The Catch America Campaign, a joint
government/industry effort to promote seafood, was launched in
1982. The National Fish & Seafood Promotional Council was
established in 1987 and spent $9 million to promote seafood
during its three-year run. The council's Spokesfish, launched
in 1989, advised consumers to "eat fish and seafood twice a
The topic of generic marketing resurfaced among National
Fisheries Institute members in 1999. Later changed to a
"resource enhancement and access program," the effort was
abandoned after the group was unable to resolve who would pay
for, and benefit from, the program.
Consolidation across the board
Processors ramped up operations and added plants in the
1980s, but competing operations began consolidating in the
1990s, and that trend continues today. So far this year, SFB
has reported 17 supplier or distributor mergers and
Retail consolidation began in earnest in the 1990s,
contributing to further consolidation on the supply side. In
the February 1999 issue, SFB reported, "Supermarket executives
won't soon forget 1998, the year the nation's biggest grocery
store chains went on a wild feeding frenzy, buying up smaller
chains and sending shock waves through the front offices of
supermarkets from Boise to Bangor.
"It started with Albertson's buying American Stores in
August. Then Safeway bought Dominick's during the second week
in October. The following week, Kroger nabbed Fred Meyer.
Finally, late in October, Ahold scooped up Giant. When the dust
settled, these four consolidations, worth more than $41
billion, had reorganized 10 of the nation's largest supermarket
In 1985 congressmen from beef-producing states called for
mandatory seafood inspections in an attempt to put the
industries on equal footing. The topic was unsuccessfully
revisited in 1989, when similar bills were introduced. In 1994
the Food and Drug Administration proposed regulations for a
mandatory seafood program called Hazard Analysis of Critical
Control Points for processors, packers, warehouses and
importers. HACCP became official in late 1995, and the industry
was given until the end of 1997 to reach compliance.
Import regulations designed to prevent a terrorist attack on
the nation's food supply were introduced in 2003, delaying
shipments and increasing paperwork for brokers and
Country-of-origin labeling for retail seafood products was
instituted in April of 2005, mandating that products be labeled
as to origin and whether wild or farm-raised.
NGOs and seafood-buying guides
Fish-bashing by environmentalists and nongovernmental
organizations began in earnest in 1987 with Public Voice's
release of "The Great American Fish Scandal: Health Risks
Unchecked." Earth Island Institute in 1990 launched a campaign
to encourage consumers to ask for "turtle-safe" shrimp at
supermarkets and restaurants. SeaWeb and the Natural Resources
Defense Council launched the "Give Swordfish a Break" campaign
in 1998. It had little effect on swordfish supplies but put
seafood-bashing front and center. Greenpeace scaled Long John
Silver's headquarters in Lexington, Ky., that same year with a
banner protesting the chain's use of factory-trawled fish. In
the past decade NGOs have focused on methylmercury in seafood
and its effects on pregnant women, nursing mothers and young
In 1999 the Monterey Bay Aquarium released its "Seafood
Watch" guide, and the National Audubon Society's Living Oceans
Program introduced its "Seafood Lover's Almanac." Both guides
are aimed at influencing both professional buyers' and
consumers' purchasing decisions.
Sustainability to the forefront
While the 1980s were all about finding the fish and finding
markets for them, the past decade raised the question: How much
is too much?
The Marine Stewardship Council, founded by Unilever and the
World Wildlife Fund in 1996, was first to put a global focus
on seafood sustainability with an independent certification
program. Nineteen fisheries have received an eco-label,
including the Alaska pollock and salmon fisheries. Wal-Mart,
the world's largest retailer, announced this year that it would
start sourcing its wild seafood from MSC-certified
Darden Restaurants, Sysco and Ahold are just a few
companies that began to explore sustainable-seafood-buying
programs. Independent certification programs such as those
founded by the Global Aquaculture Alliance and SalmonChile
address quality and sustainability issues for farmed shrimp and
Dot-coms, terrorists and nature
Remember the dot-com frenzy of 2000 to 2001? Venture
capitalists believed all seafood could be bought and sold
online. But we all know what happened to the dot-com dream.
Then the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought the
entire U.S. airline industry to a halt. The seafood industry,
heavily dependent upon airfreight, was left with product it
couldn't get to its customers.
The deadliest tsunami in recorded history battered South
Asia in December 2004. U.S. seafood suppliers and fishermen
rushed to aid fishermen in the region. Then disaster struck at
home as hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma ripped apart the
Gulf Coast in 2005. It will take the region's fishermen and
processors years to rebuild their industry's
Stay tuned to see what the next 25 years hold for the
Editor Fiona Robinson can be e-mailed at