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US Eating Less Fish

Why People Are Eating Less Fish: As Consumption of Seafood Declines, Part of Problem Is Fragmented Industry

By Ben DiPietro

WI State Journal

Updated April 15, 2014 4:01 p.m. ET

At a time when some Americans have started to improve their diets, they're increasingly turning their noses up at one of the healthiest foods around: fish.

The average U.S. consumer ate 14.4 pounds of seafood in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, down from 15 pounds in 2011 and a record high 16.6 pounds consumed in 2004. That's far less than the average 82 pounds of chicken, 57 pounds of beef and 46 pounds of pork. Americans consume in a year. It's also much less than the amount of seafood eaten in other countries. The average Japanese consumer eats 120 pounds a year, while Spaniards consume 96 pounds.

This fading appetite for fish shows that for a fragmented industry having a healthy product isn't enough. Surveys show consumers aren't sure how to cook fish and prices can be high, while the seafood industry hasn't been able to organize any major marketing campaigns to promote fish consumption, the kind of efforts that paid off for the beef and pork industries.

"I don't think we've found the solution," Christopher Lischewski, chief executive officer at Bumble Bee Foods LLC, said on the sidelines of the Seafood Expo North America show in Boston held in March. "You have a population that is somewhat fish-averse…and we really don't take the opportunity to educate consumers about all the great attributes that go along with seafood, all the health and nutrition attributes, and we don't teach people how to prepare it."

Fear of seafood and how to cook it is the industry's top challenge, said Phil Lempert, editor of supermarketguru.com, which tracks the retail food business. "No. 2 is how disjointed this industry is. Until we can get the industry together to promote consumption, nothing will happen."

Other problems include the confusion and mixed messages surrounding claims that certain types of seafood are high in mercury, fears stirred up by organizations opposed to growing genetically modified salmon, a lack of awareness of which types of fish are healthy, and a failure of the industry and supermarkets to better promote fish.

Seafood company officials aspire to emulate the chicken industry, where consumption has boomed to nearly 82 pounds in 2012 from 34 pounds in 1965. If the industry can ease consumer fears and develop more convenient products, John Connelly, president of industry trade group National Fisheries Institute, said at the Boston show that there's "nothing to preclude us from having the kind of exponential growth the poultry industry had."

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