The question of whether or not you should buy local or imported seafood is one that has achieved rapid prevalence in recent years as the trend towards sustainable seafood has progressed significantly. Typically, there is a significant incentive to buying locally sourced food. But does that necessarily pertain to seafood as well? It certainly does for produce. If you live minutes away from an apple orchard in Maine, wouldn’t it behoove you to buy the apples from that orchard to ensure you’re getting the most fresh and untampered apples possible? There might be some logic at work there. But, on the other hand, imported goods can contain different ingredients and flavors due to their place of origin. Taking into account personal preference, and of course geography, there are convincing argument for both sides.
There is a method to the madness when it comes to food and the distance it has traveled. Some food purists believe that the amount of distance traveled has a large bearing on the taste of the product. The biggest point to their arguments usually revolves around the product being seasonal, therefore not always-accessible and typically, a low environmental footprint is involved (or not involved, rather). Beyond that, the argument for locally produced food is the promotion of food safety through transparent farming. But this doesn’t really apply to seafood to the same extent.
Seafood consumption in the United States is dependent on a considerable amount of travel as it stands. According to market experts, seafood products travel an average distance of 5,000 miles minimum before reaching their final destination. This leads us to sad truth, which is what we might have considered “local” when it comes to seafood, is in fact imported. In fact, in the United States, the same report claimed that 91 percent of the seafood we consume is imported to some degree. This statistic offers a bit of a conundrum because the “distance traveled” rule does still apply to seafood, but people are forced to buy within their means. Ideally, we all would like to purchase fish from locally sourced fisheries, but depending on where you live, your accessibility to locally sourced fish may be limited. There are organizations dedicated to the pursuit of supporting local fisheries. CSFs or Community Supported Fisheries provide seafood that comes from relatively short distances from the merchant. In doing so, they provide seafood that is generally fresher. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, they emit less harmful contaminants to the ozone by burning less fuel in both the fishing process and the delivery process.
Another argument for buying local fish over imported (if available) is the variety it provides. The variety element is mutually beneficial for both consumers and local catcher and procurers. Promoting variety at local markets ensures an even spread of species consumption rather than an over-fishing of one species in particular–let’s say, halibut. Promoting catch variety means the catchers can make more of a profit on certain catches that would have otherwise been neglected by the market. Finally, circling back to a couple of our previous blog posts, buying locally sourced seafood promotes strong traceability. With locally sourced fish, you can be sure of where the fish came from and how it was caught.
So, what have we learned? Whenever possible, buy local seafood. If not for you, for the local catchers that do more for your palate and environment than the importers do.