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Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?

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  1. Because someone figured out how to make more money doing it.

    1. Excellent article and a subject that is very distressing. We try to have salmon or another fish at least once or twice a week for health reasons. It has become a chore to try and find a "clean" and "safe" fish for our table. I always go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's website to see what they are recommending, but here in landlocked New Mexico our choices are fairly limited. I have recently been buying Whole Foods Norweigian farmed salmon which they assure me meets their high standards of quality (hmmmm......)

      It's really mind boggling to see the direction the fishing industry has taken and I feel bad for local fishermen. I lived in Boston when the Atlantic cod disaster hit full bore. Fisherman up and down the East Coast were and are still devastated.

      I will not buy anything from the US Gulf after the BP oil spill. I was a fan of Chef John Besh but no longer. He appeared in a "documentary" on the FN some years ago with a bunch of Louisiana chefs (and the White House chef--politics anyone?) pushing Louisiana seafood. It was blatant disaster control propaganda. Now I see that his new show on PBS is partially funded by BP. Doesn't sit well with me, so bye bye Besh.

      What a mess.

      8 Replies
      1. re: sandiasingh

        There's a steady stream of posts here on CH about which fish are sustainable, what shrimp (if any) are safe, how to tell farmed from wild, etc. Clearly, many Chowhounds pay close attention to sourcing; unfortunately, many other diners don't. This is for varying reasons, ranging from ignorance to denial to just plain "I can't be bothered with all that." However, if various negative trends continue, there'll be precious few aquatic critters we'll be able to find to eat; sourcing will come down to "where did all the fish go?"

        Sorry to hear about Besh shilling for BP; I always liked his shows.

        1. re: mcsheridan

          Since the tiny tinned fish are reportedly good for us with Omega 3s, I buy smoked mackerel, oysters, sardines and anchovies at Trader Joe's and make a pate called "Gentlemen's Relish," an old British condiment with tinned fish and spices. It's very tasty and I am hoping delivers the fish oil that I need to my diet. I have it every day as a snack.

          Other than that, we just do our best. Sometimes our WF has Colorado trout, but that is about it for good, local fish here. When I need shrimp for an asian soup, I just close my eyes and try not to think about it. I've heard some of the Vietnam and Thailand fish farms hang chicken cages above them to "fertilize" the shrimp. Ick ick ick in so many ways.

          1. re: sandiasingh

            A very small and occasional dose of denial can be good for the diner's soul. But I draw the line at buying anything, especially shrimp, from Thailand, due to the slavery issues and horrific treatment (including truly gruesome murders) of men involved in shrimp fishing there.

        2. re: sandiasingh

          It seems to me inconsistent to lament the decline of American fisheries and in the next paragraph declare an unwillingness to buy seafood from the US Gulf coast. All American fisheries are monitored by NOAA and the FDA, and it is their job to ensure the safety of our seafood. I have confidence in these agencies.

          Here is a link to a statement of Gulf seafood by the FDA:

          http://www.fda.gov/Food/RecallsOutbre...

          1. re: GH1618

            Sorry GH1618. I do not share your confidence. I know too much.

            1. re: sandiasingh

              Most people don't know it but crude oil along with all the other poisonous substances that co-mingle with it have been bubbling up from the sea bed in the Gulf for thousands of years.

              1. re: Tom34

                And if crude oil was all we had to contend with then it would be a less significant problem. The issue in the Gulf is that there was large-scale use of dispersants like Corexit which exacerbate the effects of the spilled oil and have detrimental effect on the Gulf fishery. There are still huge amounts of unusable shrimp caught in the Gulf and it's mostly a judgment call as to which are usable:

                http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/...

          2. re: sandiasingh

            There was a Gulf oil spill in 1979 that rivals the Horizon spill. Ixtoc I spewed three million barrels into the Gulf, much of it washing up on the Texas coast where I live, but it didn't get the news coverage we have now and is largely forgotten. I've caught and eaten almost a thousand fish from the Gulf and Texas bays since the early 90's plus unknown quantities of Gulf shrimp and blue crabs dating back to the spill. So if you were eating Gulf seafood since 1979, you were eating "tainted" seafood, start worrying about what you've been putting in your body, personally I'm not concerned. We had tar balls from the spill washing up on the beaches for years. By the way, suntan oil does a fine job of removing it from your feet.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixtoc_I_...

          3. Overall, this doesn't worry me too much, despite my comments in another thread about the possible unseen consequences of a Chinese company now owning Smithfield.

            When it comes down to it, the viability of all products comes down to the cost of the raw material + the cost of the labor to create a retail item + the cost of transportation along the distribution chain.

            There will come a time when either overseas labor or the cost of transporting the fish back and forth (or both) will become cost-prohibitive, with processing of our own catch returning to U.S. shores.

            In the meantime, I would actually rather see us create preferential economic zones in U.S. territories in the Pacific, where they need the jobs rather than federal handouts, to encourage fishing industry jobs there, rather than sending the fish to other countries, if it's going to be transported for the moment anyway. It would kill two birds with one stone.

            1. The biggest factor on where the best quality seafood goes is, "What people are willing to pay for it". Its the exact same scenario with beef. People in other countries are willing to pay significantly more for the top 1/3 of our prime grade beef and with the exception of VERY expensive steakhouses and a few mail order beef companies, most of it is exported. Its the same scenario with most of our #1 grade seafood.

              Chowhound's may be willing to pay more for ingredients but the overall US population is not. Bags of pumped tasteless Asian 16/20 count shrimp @ $9.99 lb will outsell domestic wild 16/20 count shrimp @ $15.99 lb at a ratio of 25:1 or better. Same with scallops & wild fin fish.

              13 Replies
              1. re: Tom34

                True. Basically, most people have no taste IMHO. Quantity over quality.

                What are wild fin fish, Tom34? Can you recommend something you feel is OK to buy?

                :-)

                1. re: sandiasingh

                  Alaskan halibut is wonderful. I also like ling cod.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    I will see if our WF carries that, pikawicca. Is it "ling cod" or "king cod?"

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        I'll take a piece of fresh caught ling cod over a fresh piece of halibut any day.
                        But then I'll take a fillet off a two pound 'gill-back' or 'copper' rock cod over a piece of ling cod any day. LOL
                        I haven't eaten every fish in the ocean but based on what I have eaten there is nothing to compare with a rock cod fillet that's been line caught/brought on the boat/filleted immediately and very slowly barely sauteed in ghee with a few drops of fresh squeezed lemon. The flesh just turning from raw to translucent.

                        1. re: Puffin3

                          Ling and Ling Cod are part of a group of fish referred to as "hake". They are in the cod family, but with so many species they can vary in quality. Some are firm and flaky, other species are much softer.

                          1. re: EricMM

                            According to fishbase.org, "ling cod" are neither ling nor cod.

                            http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/speci...

                            1. re: GH1618

                              I was thinking in terms of East coast fish...not familiar with west coast fish. This ling cod is in the scorpionfish family, totally unrelated to the cod family.

                  2. re: sandiasingh

                    Sorry, by wild fin fish I mean regular fish, not shell fish.

                    Honestly Sandiasingh, I hate to recommend a particular fish because everyone's tastes are different as are cooking methods.

                    Best thing to do is hook up with a local fish monger and try different varieties cooked different ways.

                  3. re: Tom34

                    Yes, it is mainly economics. People who can afford to shop at Whole Foods are a small minority, and some of them seem to have no appreciation of the fact that many Americans have tight budgets for food which rule out the most desirable seafood. Accusing such people of having "no taste" is an elitist conceit.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      Uh, I didn't accuse people of having "No Taste". I said bags of pumped tasteless Asian 16/20 count shrimp @ $9.99 lb will outsell domestic wild 16/20 count shrimp @ $15.99 lb at a ratio of 25:1 or better. That's a statistic that I stand by and in and of its self I don't feel it somehow signifies "elitist Conceit".

                      Personally, my wife and I favor the milder flavor of farm raised salmon over wild caught and its significantly cheaper.

                      1. re: Tom34

                        I didn't say that you did. I agree with you. It was someone else who wrote that.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          OK, I took it the wrong way....my fault :-)

                  4. There is a larger issue that the article doesn't address, This omission brings unto question the article itself and the author's diligence.

                    The omission is the processing of North American catch in China. The catch is shipped overseas, processed and then shipped back.

                    I stumbled upon this while checking out a package of Walleye from Lake Winnipeg as its packaging boldly proclaimed. I am a retired print production manager and was puzzled by an applied sticker saying "Product of Canada". Peeling it back I saw beneath, "Product of China". It actually cost more to print and apply the sticker than the original package itself cost.

                    I can't cite the references I found at the time, but they showed that our domestic fish were being funnelled through New York, shipped overseas, gutted and filleted, and then sent back to us. I'm sure someone can provide more detail on this matter.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: DockPotato

                      I idly picked up a package of "wild caught in the US" salmon at Walmart the other day and on the back was printed "packed in China".

                      I don't know particulars but my understanding (heck maybe I read it on Chow) is that much of fish freezing/processing is done on the boats immediately. There may be practical matters that allow, say, Alaskan salmon to be caught in US water then processed in China more economically than to offload it in the US for processing. Just a quick look at a map suggests it's easier to sail to China than to the lower 48.

                      1. re: ennuisans

                        I am still working on my 1st cup of coffee after a pretty enjoyable night but I seem to recall seeing something on TV quite a few years ago about giant Chinese fish processing ships that commercial fishing boats off load their catch to at sea. These floating fish factories probably also refuel & supply the fishing boats which extends their time on the fishing grounds. Maybe this accounts for some of the imports?

                        1. re: Tom34

                          This isn't Chinese but it's a short video of how floating processors work.

                          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d98x-...

                          I believe the guide (captain? It's a very noisy video) says there are 300,000 lbs of fish processed at one time. Insane.

                      2. re: DockPotato

                        The author addresses that in three paragraphs, of which this is the first:

                        <To make things triply strange, a portion of that salmon, after heading across the Pacific, returns to us: Because foreign labor is so cheap, many Alaskan salmon are caught in American waters, frozen, defrosted in Asia, filleted and boned, refrozen and sent back to us. Pollock also make this Asian round trip, as do squid — and who knows what else?>

                        1. re: DockPotato

                          IMO there is zero chance that any fish is sent overseas THEN gutted and filleted.
                          Yes it's very likely commercially caught fish are 'processed' on factory ships offshore and then returned to NA for consumption.
                          These fish are most likely to be sardines/mackerel etc.
                          Larger fish not so much.

                          1. re: Puffin3

                            There are no factory ships anywhere near Lake Winnipeg which is in the middle of the continent.

                          2. re: DockPotato

                            That's right. You posted that you had read that "our domestic fish were being funnelled through New York, shipped over seas, gutted and filleted and sent back to us".
                            As a former commercial fisherman I am telling you that the notion that any commercial caught fish, with the exception of very small fish like sardines/herring/anchovy/small mackerel, was caught then shipped over seas THEN gutted and filleted is preposterous
                            Not unless the fish are intended to be used as cat food.
                            Even on the most filthy asian factory ships the catch is immediately gutted and either filleted or left whole but then immediately flash frozen.
                            Having driven across Canada twenty + times and living in Canada all my life I assure you I know where Lake Winnipeg is.

                            1. re: Puffin3

                              I agree that the idea is certainly preposterous, but it is the state of affairs. Not only here but elsewhere in the world as well.

                              Memory and research show two errors in my post: the fish were indeed caught in Lake Winnipeg but they were Sauger, not their close relative Walleye; the fish are gutted and degilled before shipping, but all filleting, other processing and packaging are done in China. And they are shipped back to us!

                              Google "Fish Processing in China" and you should find a result "[PDF]3.2 Value Chain" which downloads a document from a Norwegian company dealing process equipment. It outlines the process and the attached slide caught my attention. It shows typical workflow of product from import to re-export. Other slides break down the financials.

                              I hope I haven't given you offence with the Lake Winnipeg remark but you had suggested the presence of a factory ship.

                               
                              1. re: DockPotato

                                No offense taken.
                                Not sure where I suggested the presence of a factory ship on Lake Winnipeg though. LOL

                            2. Great article - very disturbing though. I try to make responsible choices on seafood but its hard given the complexity.

                              1. Having spent a few decades now in the seafood importing business, I am not so incensed by the trading activity mentioned in the article.

                                Pulling bones out of fish is on the list of "jobs that Americans don't want to do..." It is helped China modernize their economy to do these manufacturing tasks for us.

                                I also note that the salary we pay is 8 times higher than it was 10 years ago for a tilapia cutter. Talk about a free-market success.

                                On the subject of aquaculture in the USA, I think we do a fine job utilizing our fresh water and land for the food commodities that are central to our food culture. i.e. beef and grains....

                                There are cultures in Asia that are much more fish-centric that ours and for us to trade with them makes the seafood industry an example of "good globalization" since it is a tide that has lifted most boats.

                                1. The author of this article, Paul Greenberg is on Fresh Air today
                                  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                    Glad you posted this. I caught part of it on air today, and it was a good interview.

                                    1. re: MelMM

                                      That's good to know. I'm gonna catch the podcast later.

                                  2. Another (and related) interesting article in the NY Times: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08... about how we (in USA) export a lot of our wild catch and ourselves eat farmed seafood from China, Thailand and Chile (86% of what we eat is imported).