91 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad, but one-third of the seafood Americans catch gets sold to other countries. Paul Greenberg is the author of the new book American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.
Greenberg tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross about what's driving the changes in America's seafood economy. “What I think we're doing is we're low-grading our seafood supply,” he says. “We're sending the really great, wild stuff that we harvest here on our shores abroad, and in exchange, we're importing farm stuff that, frankly, is of an increasingly dubious nature.”
The U.S. exports the best quality fish because Americans eat only about 15 pounds per capita of seafood a year. That’s about half the global average. There’s incentive to make the seafood cheap, easy and less about taste, which means moving away from local providers:
"We don’t want fish markets in our viewshed. We don’t want to smell them. We don’t want to look at them. So they really have been banished from the center of our cities and sequestered to a corner of our supermarkets.
This is a process that aids all of the facelessness and commodification of seafood. … Seafood has been taken out of the hands of the experts and put into the hands of the traders, so people really cannot identify the specificity of fish anymore. Because supermarkets rely on mass distribution systems, often frozen product, it means that the relationship between coastal producers of seafood is broken and so it’s much easier for them to deal with the Syscos of the world, or these large purveyors that use these massive shrimp operations in Thailand or China, than it is for them to deal with the kind of knotty nature of local fishermen.”
Photograph by Rich Frishman via National Geographic
A Pike Place Market fishmonger handles the goods at Pure Food Fish Market in Seattle, Washington