US seafood landings reach 17-year high

20 Sep 2012
Dutch Harbor, the top port with the highest volume of catch this year. Credit: NOAA

Dutch Harbor, the top port with the highest volume of catch this year. Credit: NOAA

A new NOAA report shows that US seafood landings reached a 17-year high in 2011, thanks in part to rebuilding fish populations.

The value of landings also increased.

According to the report, Fisheries of the United States 2011, US commercial fishermen landed 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, valued at $5.3 billion, an increase over 2010 of 1.9 billion pounds and more than $784 million. Much of the increase is due to higher catches of Gulf menhaden, Alaska pollock, and Pacific hake, also known as whiting.

“Commercial and recreational fishing are integral to the nation’s social and economic fabric,” said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “To see landings and value climb again this year shows we’re moving in the right direction and that the fishing industry is strengthening as fish populations rebuild.”

The report shows that the Alaska port of Dutch Harbor-Unalaska led the nation with the highest amount of fish landed – primarily pollock – for the 15th consecutive year. For the 12th consecutive year, New Bedford, Mass. had the highest valued catch, due mostly to the sea scallop fishery. However, scallops are a bright spot in New England fishery: despite fishermen staying within catch limits, several key groundfish stocks have declined unexpectedly, leading the Department of Commerce to declare a disaster for groundfish fishermen on 13 September.

Catches throughout the Gulf of Mexico rebounded in 2011 to the highest volume since 1999, following a curtailed 2010 season due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The full fishing season in 2011 produced commercial landings of Gulf menhaden that were 66% higher than 2010 landings, with Gulf fishermen bringing in more than 1.6 billion pounds of menhaden valued at $110 million. Gulf shrimp landings rose 20%, from 176 million pounds valued at $338 million in 2010 to 212 million pounds valued at $418 million in 2011.

Altogether, Americans consumed 4.7 billion pounds of seafood, making the US second only to China in seafood consumption.

In 2011, about 91% of seafood consumed in the US was imported, up 5% from 2010. However, a portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the US The top three imports are shrimp, canned tuna and tilapia fillet.

Almost half of imported seafood comes from aquaculture, or farmed seafood. America’s aquaculture industry currently meets less than 5% of US seafood demand, producing primarily oysters, clams, mussels, and some finfish, including salmon.

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