SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

American consumers are eating more fish
By Maggie Wall


October 02, 2006

October is a great month for seafood lovers. It's National Seafood Month so expect your favorite consumer magazines to be running lots of snippets on the glories of seafood along with tempting recipes to help celebrate the month.

This is good for Alaska's commercial fishers. The more aware consumers are of the value of fish to a healthy diet the more they'll eat and the better the demand for Alaska's number two industry. While it falls behind the oil industry in dollars generated, the fishing industry is the state's number one employer.

Dutch Harbor has ranked at the top of U.S. fishing ports for more than 15 years. Kodiak routinely falls somewhere around third place behind Dutch and New Bedford, MA.

Alaska produces more than half of all U.S. seafood-more than all other states combined.

Looking out across the country, the number one eaten fish species per capita is shrimp, followed by canned tuna and salmon. Pollock, largely found in fish sticks and fish sandwiches, was number four. This is from a National Fisheries Institute's report based on 2004 consumption records. The other two Alaska fish on the top ten eaten list are crab and cod, at numbers seven and eight, respectively.

Americans fondness for fish continues to increase with consumers now eating more than 16 pounds of seafood per year. Unfortunately, much of that fish is imported product, which accounts for 78 percent of U.S. consumption. The other downer is that-according to the National Fisheries Institute-Americans should be eating twice that amount in order to meet government recommended standards for healthy living.

Overall, we-Americans as a whole, not us fish crazy Alaskans-eat only about five ounces of fish a week. Dietary professions recommend at least two servings per week. While different fish products have varying amounts of fish per serving, you can put this into perspective by looking at that pantry staple, tuna. Your basic can of tuna is 6 ounces with a serving size of 2 ounces. That means American consumers eat less fish per week than is in a can of tuna.

When we look at fish eaters around the world that 16 pounds per year consumed in American is nothing compared to what the island nations eat. The Japanese eat 146 pounds of seafood per person, while in Iceland it's 200 pounds and it's 186 pounds in Greenland.

Interestingly enough, figures show the country with the lowest consumption of seafood is Afghanistan, which eats so little it doesn't even register on the chart.

The highest per capita fish consumption is on the South Pacific Island of Tokelau where each person averages more than 440 pounds every year. Try converting that using our tuna can measure!

Consumer Prices Up

And while American consumers are eating more fish, they can expect to pay more as the suppliers hustles to keep up with demand.

Seafood Dot Com reports that consumer prices for seafood climbed faster that competing sources of protein foods. Competing proteins include beef, pork and poultry, among others.

An analysis of data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that consumer prices for seafood is up the past year by 4.5 percent. That compares to beef which dipped half a percentage point and poultry that fell by nearly 3 percent. Consumer pork prices stayed almost the same as a year ago.

Seafood Dot Com says the rise in seafood prices is the result of a swing from a buyer's market to a seller's market. We're probably most familiar with those phrases in relation to the housing market. And just like with home sales, when there are more people out there looking to buy fish, the prices rise as the seller benefits from the increased demand.

And, as already mentioned, that increased demand for healthy sources of protein is great for the Alaska economy.

As you might expect the price of fresh fish has increased more than the price of frozen products. Overall, fresh fish saw a more than six percent rise in prices from July 2005 to July 2006. That compares to frozen products which increased by just over 2 percent during the same yearly period.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics wholesale prices are up even more percentage wise. Wholesale salmon prices are up 35 percent from July to July. Cod is up 22 percent and pollock is up a whopping 74 percent.

Now keep in mind, these prices include ALL fish products sold in the U.S. and include the price of imports.

Maggie Wall is an award-winning journalist based in Kodiak.
Laine Welch will be back next week.


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her Fish Factor column appears weekly in over a dozen papers and websites. Her Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations across Alaska.

Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska