Seafood could be a greater catch

May 14, 2014

Entice Americans to eat a lot more fish – build their product trust, species knowledge, and confidence in cooking.

If David Letterman wanted to air a Top 10 Reasons segment about why Americans don’t eat more fish, he’d have no trouble compiling the list.

But it wouldn’t be funny.  And it would only underscore the billions of dollars in sales that supermarket seafood departments don’t reel in each year.

Some of the reasons why:

Man-made disasters like the Alaskan and Gulf oil spills seared vivid images in the minds of consumers who fear contamination.  Natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami led to radioactive seepage.  Acts of greed have led to overfishing, threats to entire species, and questionable quality product from countries exporting to the United States.  

Indeed, as much as 32% of wild shrimp, crab, salmon, Pollock, tuna and other seafood imports is caught illegally, says a Washington Post account of a new University of British Columbia study published in Marine Policy.  An Oceana report identifies nine U.S. commercial fisheries with high levels of bycatch that threaten ecosystems.

Adding to the seafood challenge: consumers are confused about which fish to eat – some are high in mercury levels, some are farmed in less-than-stellar conditions, and some may be mislabeled and passed off as costlier species.  The introduction of genetically modified salmon is a concern for some. 

While chains such as Kroger and Whole Foods Market impose high sustainability standards on their seafood suppliers – and let customers know about it – efforts like these go only so far to offset what SupermarketGuru Phil Lempert told The Wall Street Journal is the industry’s top challenge:  fear of seafood and how to cook it.  “No. 2 is how disjointed this industry is.  Until we can get the industry together to promote consumption, nothing will happen,” he added.

Despite the visual appeal and nutritional value of seafood, shoppers may balk at per-pound prices that eclipse protein sources such as meats, cheeses and nuts if they lack confidence in their own cooking skills, noted a recent story in our sister newsletter Facts, Figures & The Future“Supermarkets can play an important role in knocking down this uncertainty,” Gavin Gibbons, director, media relations at the National Fisheries Institute, told F3 “Once the menu makers [at home] realize how easy and affordable seafood can be…you’ve opened up a new culinary chapter for them.  They start visiting part of the store they’d never been to.”