by | Sep 13, 2018 | Imports, Markets

The ease and healthiness of preparing fish, combined with concerns of over-fishing in U.S. resources and environmental implications has lead to the burgeoning growth of seafood imports. It is estimated that the United States imports nearly 80 percent of the seafood it consumes. If the first six months of 2018 are any barometer, this year may also set a record.

U.S. Fish Imports

According to Descartes DatamyneTM, the provider of the world’s largest searchable trade database covering global trade of 230 markets across five continents, 2018 imports of fish (HS03) as of July amount to nearly $9.9 billion worth of seafood entering the United States, with Canada as the largest supplier by FOB value. In 2017, the dollar amount for the entire year grew 9 percent compared to 2016, from $15.5 billion to $17 billion. The top countries importing fish into the United States in 2017 by FOB value, in addition to Canada, are India, China, Chile and Indonesia.

U.S. Seafood Imports

U.S. Shellfish Imports

Shellfish imports, combining three Harmonized System (HS) codes (HS 0306, 0307, 1605), accounted for more than $9.9 billion in import value in 2016 alone, also with Canada as the primary supplier by FOB value.

In 2017, import values increased 12.6 percent compared to 2016 to a total value of $11.2 billion. So far in 2018, shellfish imports amount to $6.2 billion in total import value, a .9% increase compared to the same period in 2017. The top countries exporting shellfish to the United States, by FOB value, in 2018 so far are Canada, India, Indonesia, China, and Vietnam.

US Shellfish Imports

Said Joanna Saltz, Editorial Director of, a cooking website of Hearst Magazines Digital Media: “Seafood has become a true weeknight staple. For such a long time, I think people were intimidated by it—worrying that it was too difficult or complicated to cook,” she said, adding: “but in the Delish kitchen, we love seafood because it really is a foolproof main course.”

“So we started using it more and more in our recipe videos—and people really responded. Now, they ask for more seafood content because they can’t get enough.” Saltz said it is “no surprise” that imports are growing.

Some 80 percent of the fish American eat are imported with the most popular species by volume being shrimp, freshwater fish, tuna, salmon, groundfish, crab and squid, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA takes an active role in shaping and managing international fisheries, even monitoring some species such as bluefin tuna, swordfish and Chilean sea bass by requiring documentation to what gear was utilized and date and location where the catch as made.

Alaska Fish Radio, endorsing Saltz’s observations, said: “America is becoming more diverse and changes in taste, technology and households will shape the future of seafood eaters. As more baby boomers leave the scene, it’s millennials who are the peak spenders.”

“We see year over year, there is this cohort aged 35 to 54 and they are going to be spending far more across categories including food expenditures than any other category.”

Will Notini is a Consumer Insights Manager at Chicago-based Technomic, a leading market tracker for over 50 years. He is working with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to identify trends in seafood consumption and how best to position seafood in a changing marketplace.

One trend gaining traction is a preference for healthy proteins. “We’re seeing that people are turning away from proteins such as beef and moving towards healthier proteins such as seafood and plant-based proteins. We’re seeing significant increases among those particular categories.  So seafood should expect to see significant growth.”

There’s been a 30 percent increase in seafood consumption by millennials in the past year and 70 percent have changed their diets to eat healthier. Technomic surveys showed that 71 percent said they are more interested in where their foods come from and how it is grown or produced, he noted.

Yet another benefit? A study by a research team from the University of Pennsylvania found that eating fish at least once a week could raise children’s IQ by nearly 5 points in the Wechsler Intelligence Scale. The study was conducted last month among 541 Chinese children between the ages of 9 and 11. The children answered questionnaires about how often they had eaten fish in the past four weeks and the options ranged from “never” to “at least once a week.” The findings showed that those who eat fish once a week scored 4.8 points higher on the IQ test than those who seldom or never included fish in their diets.

According to the study, even those who consumed fish occasionally benefit with better verbal and non-verbal skills, as they scored an average of 33 points higher than those who do not eat fish at all.  The study also found that frequent fish consumption was related to fewer sleep disturbances through the night, and researchers think this may reveal sleep as a possible link between fish and intelligence.

No industry that brags about healthy eating, tasty options, easy preparation is without its challenges.  With imported fish, these include NOAA’s commitment to using all tools at its disposal to ensure a level playing field for U.S. fishermen, confidence in safe and legal seafood, as well as sustainable fishery management. It is also significant to note that there is plenty of fish caught in American waters, sent abroad for processing and then imported back into the U.S. for consumption.

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