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January 2017 Issue

Fisheries & Aquaculture:
Landings Improve; Farmed
Production Dips; Consumption Up

By Rick Martin
Publisher, Commercial Fisheries News and Fish Farming News
In one of the biggest surges in recent history, U.S. per capita seafood consumption increased by nearly a pound according to the latest numbers (from 2015)—good news for commercial fishermen and fish farmers.

That said, production reporting was mixed, with landings of wild caught fish and shellfish up slightly over the previous year, while domestic aquaculture production dipped.

Commercial Landings
U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.7 billion lb. of fish and shellfish in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). This represented an increase of 232 million lb., or about 2.4 percent, compared to 2014, according to NOAA’s annual report, Fisheries of the United States 2015.

The value of U.S. commercial landings, however, was down. The value of commercial landings was $5.2 billion, down by $244 million, or a decrease of roughly 4.5 percent versus 2014.

Imports were up in both volume and value. Imports of edible fishery products in 2015 were calculated by NOAA at 5.7 billion lb., valued at $18.8 billion. Volume increased by 175.8 million lb., about 3 percent, while value decreased by $1.4 billion, or 7 percent, compared with 2014.

Seafood Consumption
There was a significant gain in per capita seafood consumption in the U.S. during 2015, continuing a three-year trend toward higher numbers, after several years of declines.

In 2015, U.S. consumers ate 15.5 lb. of seafood per person, an increase of 0.9 lb. from 2014’s level of 14.6 lb. While this represents a remarkable one-year gain of nearly a pound, it is still well below the all-time record high of 16.6 lb. in 2004.

U.S. consumers spent an estimated $96 billion for fish and seafood products in 2015. Americans continue to eat most of their seafood in restaurants, spending $61.4 billion in food service purchases (restaurants, takeout, caterers, etc.). About $31 billion was spent on seafood for at-home preparation and consumption.

Shrimp remained the top choice for U.S. consumers, as it has for the last several years. Salmon, canned tuna, tilapia and Alaska pollock rounded out the top five list of most popular species. Trailing pollock were pangasius (or so-called imported catfish), cod, crab, catfish and clams to complete the top 10 list. These top 10 species, by the way, make up more than 90 percent of all the seafood Americans eat.

Aquaculture Production
U.S. aquaculture production declined slightly in 2014 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). In 2014, estimated U.S. aquaculture production (freshwater and marine) was 608 million lb., with a value of $1.33 billion. This represented a decrease of about 18.3 million lb., or 2.9 percent, and a decline of about $4 million in value, less than 1 percent.

While freshwater aquaculture production has been declining generally since 2009, 2013 production showed an increase of 10 percent. But that trend was not sustained in 2014. Marine production remained basically unchanged from 2013, with 2014 totals coming in at 90.6 million lb. and $386 million in value. Freshwater production is primarily composed of catfish (307 million lb.), crawfish (134 million lb.) and trout (48.5 million lb.). Atlantic salmon is the leading species for marine finfish aquaculture (41.2 million lb.), while oysters have the highest volume (33.3 million lb.) for marine shellfish production.

The Look Ahead
Most experts would agree that a growing appetite among U.S. consumers for fish and seafood products equals opportunity for domestic harvesters and producers. The challenge is how to capitalize on that opportunity.

The U.S. continues to import the vast majority of seafood products consumed here. Supplies of popular seafood species are plentiful, and price points have remained low. Commercial fishermen who might like to increase their landings and cut into the flow of imports are constrained by resource limits and highly restricted access to most popular species.

U.S. fish farmers, who have struggled for years to bring production costs down (land, labor, energy) and compete more favorably with imports, have enjoyed only modest success.

While many believe the best hope for significantly growing domestic production lies in development of open ocean aquaculture in U.S. waters—an objective supported by NOAA—the industry has yet to step up.

Perhaps the positive trend of increased seafood consumption in the U.S. will stimulate new interest in the year ahead.

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