“It is a particularly American contradiction that the thing we should be eating most is the thing most absent from our plates.
Fish and shellfish are today widely recognized by physicians as central to our physical and mental health, and just about every contemporary diet–Paleo, Mediterranean, Atkins, South Beach (take your pick)–recommends seafood as a key animal protein. Heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, even low sperm count are all conditions that a fish-based diet may help ameliorate. And by all rights this most healthy of foods should be an American mainstay. The United States controls more ocean than any other country on earth. Our seafood-producing territory covers 2.8 billion acres, more than twice as much real estate as we have set aside for landfood.
But in spite of our billions of acres of ocean, our 94,000 miles of coast, our 3.5 million miles of rivers, around 90 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad.
Set against the backdrop of the larger American food system, the seafood deficit, is, well, fishy. Many of our most important landfoods are trending in the opposite direction. Corn, anybody? Plenty of it–surpluses of it, in fact. Beef? Enough domestic production to supply every American with around eighty pounds a year–five times the national per capita rate of seafood consumption.
Meanwhile, the paucity of domestic fish and shellfish in our markets and in our diets continues even as foreign seafood floods in at a tremendous rate. In the last half century American seafood imports have increased by a staggering 1,476 percent.
It gets fishier still. While around 90 percent of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of the seafood Americans catch gets sold to foreigners. By and large the fish and shellfish we are sending abroad are wild while the seafood we are importing is very often farmed. Two hundred million pounds of wild Alaska salmon, a half billion pounds of pollock, cod, and other fish-and-chips-type species, a half billion pounds of squid, scallops, lobsters, and other shellfish are, every year, being sent abroad, more and more often to Asia; untold tons of omega-3-rich seafood are leaving our shores…”