Seafood Choices

Some thoughts from the Boston Seafood Show

Just one of many busy rows of booths at the Boston Seafood Show.

Samantha Caravello is the Program Assistant for the Ocean Conservation program at the Conservation Law Foundation.

Inside the doors of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center earlier this week, the air took on a deliciously fishy smell. The International Boston Seafood Show was taking place in the cavernous exhibition hall there, a space so large that it took about two hours to walk past all of the booths (including time spent tasting samples and chatting with vendors, of course). Exhibitors at the show were largely purveyors of seafood products, but there was also a strong showing of companies involved in other aspects of the industry, such as freight transporters and sellers of processing equipment. Restaurants, distributors, supermarkets, wholesalers, and a variety of other potential buyers came to the Seafood Show to connect with these exhibitors, making it a great networking opportunity for those in the industry. For someone like me involved in the advocacy rather than business side of fishery management, it was an opportunity to observe and think about the products available (and, let’s be honest, to eat as many samples of smoked salmon as my stomach could handle).

This was a big year for the Seafood Show—more than one thousand companies from dozens of countries were represented with exhibits, leading Seafoodnews.com’s John Sackton to conclude that the U.S. is the best place to sell seafood this year. He reports that most of the growth the Seafood Show saw this year was in the form of new exhibits from Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea. This international presence was certainly visible as I walked around the show, and it was exciting to see how the exhibitors’ presentation of their products varied from booth to booth. Seafood from across the globe was showcased in such abundance that you would never know there is a worldwide overfishing problem.

You probably would also never know that the U.S. has some sustainably managed wild fisheries, another fact masked by the strong presence of international vendors and products landed far away from U.S. waters. Of course, this foreign presence also makes you realize that while we may picture a Gloucester fisherman hauling in his catch when we dig into a fish dinner, seafood is truly a global industry.

The U.S. imports over 80% of the seafood we consume—a fact that spending a few hours at the Seafood Show makes easily believable—so it’s a high probability that the fish on your plate came from a foreign trawler or aquaculture facility.  How do we get closer to the locally-caught ideal? Something all consumers can do is to ask for local seafood when making purchases for their dinner tables.

The Seafood Show is an important business opportunity for seafood buyers and sellers, and it was also an interesting way for a casual observer like me to spend the afternoon. It reminded me, though, of how important it is to put our seafood purchasing power to work at home and support the US fishermen who are working hard to produce sustainable fisheries under some of the strictest harvest and processing rules in the world. We’re proud of our fishermen and the coastal economies they support here in New England and elsewhere across the country – we should make sure to remember that in our choices at the seafood case.


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