Nov. 13, 2003 The crab used in ‘Maryland’ crab cakes most likely comes from Indonesia, Thailand or Venezuela, even when they’re ordered at a restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay. Bay scallops, traditionally from New England and a popular item on menus across the country, today are raised primarily in China. And nearly 90 percent of all shrimp, the number one seafood consumed in the United States, is now imported from farms in Thailand, India, Vietnam, Ecuador and China rather than caught wild in the Gulf of Mexico or other nearby waters.
"The globalization of the fishing industry and the decline of many fish populations in U.S. waters has meant that the fish we eat no longer comes from where it once came," said James Anderson, professor and chairman of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Rhode Island. "It now comes to us from around the globe, from southern Chile to northern Russia to tiny islands in the most remote places on the planet."
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Anderson, one of the leading authorities on the economics of the seafood industry. But, he says, it’s important that consumers become aware of where their seafood originated. "People need to ask at restaurants where their fish comes from. They might not want to support the farmed seafood sector, for instance, or they might want to avoid wild-caught fish."
Almost 200 countries supply fish and seafood products to the global marketplace, and more than 800 species of fish are actively traded around the world. With sales of over $60 billion, the total value of internationally-traded seafood products exceeds the trade of grains, meats, and beverages, according to figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
"When we shut down our fisheries here, our consumption of fish doesn’t go down," Anderson explained. "We just get it elsewhere. What has happened is that fish are generally flowing from the developing countries to the developed countries. And the future of these developing countries depends on their ability to harvest their resources smartly and sell them profitably to the rich countries."
Further evidence of the globalization of the industry comes from the fact that fish caught or raised in the U.S. -- like flounder and cod -- are shipped to China to be cut into fillets and then shipped back to U.S. markets. Anderson said it’s cheaper to do that than to have the work done here.
Globalization is just one of the "mega-trends" that the URI professor cites in his new book, The International Seafood Trade, published last summer by Woodhead Publishing Ltd. He also says that the industry’s major technological trend is aquaculture, which now accounts for approximately 30 percent of the global seafood harvest.
"Shrimp prices have dropped significantly because they can be farmed cheaply in Asia. Salmon consumption jumped 177 percent in the last ten years, making it the third most consumed seafood product in the U.S., and almost all of it is farmed in places like Chile, Canada and Norway," Anderson said. "And while it’s not evident in the Northeast, farmed catfish is number five on the list of most consumed seafood per capita. Almost all of the seafood species which show increasing consumption are farmed.
"Look for imports of farmed tilapia from Costa Rica, China, Taiwan and Ecuador to grow rapidly in the next few years, too. Although unfamiliar to many Americans, it made the list of top ten seafoods consumed in the U.S. and will probably pass flatfish within a year or two," he added.
Anderson’s book is the first to provide a comprehensive overview of the complex and dynamic seafood industry. It is aimed at biologists and fisheries managers who need to understand the economics of the industry; business people working in the fisheries industry, like buyers for large restaurant chains; exporters, importers, distributors and wholesalers; and environmental groups seeking a global perspective on issues affecting the ocean.
Other contributors to the book include URI Professor Cathy Roheim and URI alumni Josue Martinez-Garmendia, Jonathan King, and Michael Bush, all of whom received graduate degrees from the Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics in URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences.
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