Laine Welch: Favorite US seafoods run true to form

Laine Welch

Americans remained true to their seafood favorites last year with shrimp, canned tuna and salmon topping the list of the 10 most popular seafoods.

That's according to the National Fisheries Institute, which compiles the list each year based on data from the government's U.S. Fisheries Report.

Following the top three are tilapia, Alaska pollock, pangasius, crab, cod, catfish and clams.

Looking more closely at the numbers shows that for the first time in five years, crab consumption began to increase after a steady decline since 2007. Perhaps the biggest trend revealed in the 10 list is that "whitefish" surpassed shrimp as the largest single seafood category, said market expert John Sackton. Whitefish consists of cod, pollock, tilapia, pangasius and domestic catfish. Combined consumption of those fish soared 6.2 percent, while shrimp fell 9.5 percent.

The growth in whitefish is driven by farmed tilapia and pangasius. Cod saw a small increase, while pollock and domestic catfish declined.

Americans ate slightly less seafood overall last year -- 14.6 pounds per person -- compared to 15 pounds in 2011. One bright note: Each person ate just over two pounds of salmon, a 3.5 percent increase.

Tilapia tattle

Americans eat almost 500 million pounds of farmed tilapia a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than four times the amount we ate a decade ago. More than 80 percent of the bland-tasting fish comes from China, with Thailand also exporting significant tonnage to the United States. What most Americans don't know is that farmed tilapia from those countries are given large amounts of antibiotics to ward off infections from manure, which is used as a cheap alternative to fish feed.

According to the Center for Food Safety, it's a common practice to use untreated chicken manure as the primary nutrition. In some farms, coops are placed over the water and the chickens poop directly into the fish ponds.

Similarly, an October article in Bloomberg's titled, "Asian seafood raised on pig feces approved for U.S. consumers," 27 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from China, yet the FDA only inspects 2.7 percent of the imports. With that in mind, it's a good idea to follow the advice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program and consider the source of tilapia before buying it. Tilapia raised in the United States, Canada and Ecuador all get passing grades, while those from China and Taiwan are "iffy alternatives."

Pangasius is a better pick

This whitefish is a type of Asian catfish, and is usually seen on supermarket shelves as basa. Roughly 90 percent of the fish is farmed in Vietnam, and is the most monitored of all farmed fish, according to SeafoodSource.

Tsunami debris

Reports of debris arriving from the March 2011 Japanese tsunami decreased this season, according to the Alaska Marine Stewardship Foundation. However, at one cleanup at Cape Suckling, the contractor reported a large influx of debris after storms the week of Oct. 21.

The contractor reported that a large amount of what appeared to be household items with Japanese writing on them appeared on the beach, which had just been cleared of about 55,000 pounds of marine debris. All kinds of debris from the Japan tsunami will continue to arrive on Alaska's shores for years to come. Experts predict that 2014 will be the year that deep water, current-driven debris really starts hitting American shores.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at Contact her at


Laine Welch