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Can the United States get rid of imported fish and seafood? A study concludes that it can

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By Milthon Lujan

Per capita consumption of fish, seafood, and other aquatic species in the United States. Source: Oyikeke et al., (2024); Npj Ocean Sustainability, 3(1), 1-7.
Per capita consumption of fish, seafood, and other aquatic species in the United States. Source: Oyikeke et al., (2024); Npj Ocean Sustainability, 3(1), 1-7.

The United States faces a serious health crisis fueled by food insecurity and poor dietary choices. Millions of people struggle to access healthy foods, leading to diet-related illnesses such as obesity and heart disease. This burden falls especially heavily on rural communities and historically marginalized groups.

But did you know that the United States is the second-largest importer of seafood in the world? A new study published by researchers from the University of Maine (USA) suggests that this dependence on foreign sources may not be sustainable, especially when considering factors such as climate change and geopolitical tensions.

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The research, published in the prestigious journal npj Ocean Sustainability, indicates that the United States has the potential to achieve significant “seafood independence.” This means meeting domestic demand primarily through national production of fish and seafood.

The Current Seafood Landscape: A Nation of Importers

It may surprise you: the United States is the second-largest importer of seafood in the world. This means that a significant portion of the fish consumed travels long distances before reaching American plates. While international trade offers variety and economic benefits, it also introduces vulnerabilities. Imagine a scenario where geopolitical tensions or climate events disrupt these supply chains: access to healthy seafood could be compromised.

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Why Are Blue Foods Important?

Fish and seafood are also known as “blue foods,” and their importance lies in:

  • Nutritional Powerhouse: Blue foods are rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that can help reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes, and other chronic conditions.
  • Dietary Guidelines: The most recent dietary guidelines recommend consuming at least 8 ounces of fish and seafood per week, but many Americans fall short.

Seafood Self-Sufficiency

Fish and seafood offer numerous benefits. They are a fundamental source of protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. For coastal communities, fishing and aquaculture are important economic drivers. However, current dependence on imports raises concerns about:

  • Sustainability: Imported seafood may come from fisheries with questionable practices, affecting ocean health.
  • Transparency: Knowing the origin and environmental impact of our seafood can be difficult with complex supply chains.

The Path to Seafood Independence

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The study analyzed 50 years of data (1970-2021) on seafood production, consumption, and trade in seven U.S. regions. While the United States imports a significant amount (80%), the research suggests that domestic production could increase to meet demand. Here’s what is needed:

  • Consumer Behavior Changes: Supporting local fishing and aquaculture and adopting a broader variety of seafood can help reduce dependence on specific imported species.
  • Investment in Infrastructure: Modernizing fishing fleets, processing facilities, and aquaculture operations is crucial for efficiency and sustainability.
  • Climate Adaptation: Sustainable practices and innovation are essential to ensure fishing and aquaculture remain viable in a changing environment.
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Regional Considerations

The study recognizes that achieving self-sufficiency will not be uniform across all U.S. regions. Some areas have greater potential to increase production than others. Collaborative efforts between federal, state, and local governments, along with consumer education, will be key to success.

Conclusion

“Overall, our study shows that the United States has the potential to significantly increase self-sufficiency based on current production and consumption levels, though it fails to produce enough blue foods to support a scenario where people eat enough seafood to meet dietary recommendations,” the researchers conclude.

This research offers a vision of a future where the U.S. fishing and aquaculture industries are self-sufficient, sustainable, and support healthy eating habits.

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The study was funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Contact
Tolulope Samuel Oyikeke
Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA
School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA
Email: tolulope.oyikeke@maine.edu

Reference (open access)
Oyikeke, T. S., Advani, S., & Stoll, J. S. (2024). Seafood independence is within reach: A multi-scale assessment of seafood self-reliance in the United States. Npj Ocean Sustainability, 3(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1038/s44183-024-00069-3