In 2011, Americans ate 15 pounds of fish and shellfish per person. While our seafood consumption still lags far behind that of poultry, pork, and beef, it does add up to nearly 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, making the United States second only to China in seafood consumption.
The United States imported about 91 percent of the seafood it consumed in 2011. However, a small portion of these imports were caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, and then re-imported to the United States. The remaining 9 percent was produced domestically.
About half the seafood we eat is wild-caught; the other half is farm-raised through aquaculture. But there's a bit of a gray area here—some "wild-caught" seafood actually starts its life in a hatchery. For example, salmon and red drum are often produced in hatcheries and then released to the wild to be caught. The same can be said for some mussel, clam, and oyster populations—in many cases, larval shellfish, or 'spat,' is reared in a hatchery and then planted in a natural setting to be harvested later. On the other hand, some "farm-raised" seafood, such as yellowtail, is caught as juveniles in the wild and then raised to maturity in captivity.
Why does it matter? It's important to know whether your seafood was caught or farm-raised under regulations that protect the health of the marine environment, the animals that live within it, and the folks that eat those products. By buying seafood from reputable sources, you're helping to conserve our ocean resources and support the economies and communities that ensure our seafood supply is safe, healthy, and sustainable. Find out more about the top 10 favorite seafood species in the United States for 2011.