U.S. seafood landings reach 17-year high in 2011, report details

September 20, 2012, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service

Dutch Harbor, the top port with the highest volume of catch this year. Credit: NOAA
(Phys.org)—U.S seafood landings reached a 17-year high in 2011, thanks in part to rebuilding fish populations, and the value of landings also increased, according to a new report released today by NOAA. 

According to the report, Fisheries of the United States 2011, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, valued at $5.3 billion, an increase over 2010 of 1.9 billion pounds and more than $784 million. Much of the increase is due to higher catches of Gulf menhaden, Alaska pollock, and Pacific hake, also known as whiting.

"Commercial and are integral to the nation's social and economic fabric," said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA's . "To see landings and value climb again this year shows we're moving in the right direction and that the is strengthening as rebuild. Our goal is to support a thriving, industry that is competitive in the global marketplace, and to enjoy the benefits of recreational fishing in our own waters."

More than 10 million recreational saltwater anglers in the United States took 69 million marine fishing trips in 2011 and caught 345 million fish, releasing nearly 60 percent of them alive. Spotted sea trout remained the top catch for recreational anglers, with 41 million caught in 2011. , sand sea trout, spot, and kingfishes were the other most common catches for saltwater anglers last year.

Alaskan pollock. Credit: NOAA

Today's report shows that the Alaska port of Dutch Harbor-Unalaska led the nation with the highest amount of fish landed – primarily pollock – for the 15th consecutive year. For the 12th consecutive year, New Bedford, Mass. had the highest valued catch, due mostly to the fishery. However, scallops are a bright spot in New England fishery: despite fishermen staying within catch limits, several key groundfish stocks have declined unexpectedly, leading the Department of Commerce to declare a disaster for groundfish fishermen on Sept. 13. Similar announcements were made that day for chinook salmon in Alaska's Yukon and Kuskokwin rivers and Cook Inlet, and for the oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi.

Catches throughout the Gulf of Mexico rebounded in 2011 to the highest volume since 1999, following a curtailed 2010 season due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The full fishing season in 2011 produced commercial landings of Gulf menhaden that were 66 percent higher than 2010 landings, with Gulf fishermen bringing in more than 1.6 billion pounds of menhaden valued at $110 million. Gulf shrimp landings rose 20 percent, from 176 million pounds valued at $338 million in 2010 to 212 million pounds valued at $418 million in 2011.

U.S. seafood landings reach 17-year high in 2011, report details
Gulf of Mexico menhaden. Credit: NOAA

The report also shows that the average American ate 15 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, less than the 2010 figure of 15.8 pounds. Altogether, Americans consumed 4.7 billion pounds of , making the U.S. second only to China in seafood consumption.

In 2011, about 91 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. was imported, up five percent from 2010. However, a portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and then re-imported to the U.S. The top three imports are shrimp, canned tuna, and tilapia fillet.

Almost half of imported seafood comes from aquaculture, or farmed seafood. America's aquaculture industry currently meets less than five percent of U.S. seafood demand, producing primarily oysters, clams, mussels, and some finfish, including salmon.

"By promoting sustainable domestic aquaculture to complement rebuilt wild fisheries, we can create more jobs and provide additional local sources of seafood that meet the highest standards for environmental protection and food safety," said Rauch.

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