(This article by Paul Greenberg was originally published July 8 by Civil Eats and is reposted here with permission.) 

The United States seafood supply is a marvel to behold in its illogic. In spite of the fact that we control more ocean than any country on earth, more than 85 percent of the fish and shellfish we eat is imported. But drill down deeper and it gets even weirder. Here are 10 things that you may not know about the fish on your plate. 1. Some Alaska salmon make a round trip to China. Because of the incredible cheapness of Chinese labor, it is more cost-effective for seafood companies to freeze the salmon they catch in Alaska, send it to China, defrost it, bone it, and send back to the U.S. This is also true of a large amount of our squid and the “white fish” and “fake crab” rendered from Alaskan pollock. 2. A portion of the bay scallops we import from China originally came from Martha’s Vineyard. About half the bay scallops we consume come to us from Asia. But it’s fishier than that. In 1982, a Chinese seafood farming scientist came to Martha’s Vineyard’s Tisbury Pond and took 120 bay scallops back to Qindao. On the way, most of them died. But 26 survived. Those surviving scallops went on to become the genetic basis for a multi-million-dollar industry, a portion of which is exported back to the U.S. 3. The sixth most popular seafood in America is a fish that can breathe air and that you’ve probably never heard of. The pangasius catfish is grown mostly in Vietnam and is primarily an export product. When its ponds get too low in oxygen because of overcrowding, the fish can stick their mouths above the surface of the water and take a breath of air. It is one of the few fish species that can do this. 4. Thailand, the largest producer of shrimp for export to the U.S., has some serious problems. In the past year, Thailand, which provides us with a huge quantity of shrimp every year, was struck by a new shrimp disease called Early Mortality Syndrome. It wiped out a billion dollars worth of shrimp. Then, last month, The Guardian revealed that a portion of the fish meal used to feed Thai shrimp is caught by vessels using slave labor. 5. The crab in crab cake isn’t necessarily from Maryland.

Because of overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction, the Chesapeake Bay does not produce as much crab as it once did. As a result, the crab in crab cakes sometimes comes either from the Gulf of Mexico, where there are large blue crab fisheries, or from abroad, often from Asia. 6. Asian carp, perhaps our worst invasive species, was introduced to America by American catfish farmers and wastewater treatment plants.

Asian carp have now invaded much of the Mississippi basin, and they are threatening to enter the Great Lakes watersheds. But it was actually American catfish farmers and wastewater treatment facilities that introduced them to America. Initially it was hoped that Asian carp would help control pests and eat algae, which they do. But they also eat a large portion of the aquatic food web, and they have escaped beyond the sites of their initial stocking. (Note: They’re also edible.) 7. Mussels contain as much or more Omega-3 fatty acids than most fish, but most are also imported. Fish do not really make Omega-3s; micro-algae do. Fish only concentrate Omega-3s from what they eat, much the same way they concentrate toxins such as PCBs and mercury. Because mussels live on micro-algae they filter from the water, they contain high levels of Omega-3s — as much as canned tuna. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of the mussels we eat in the U.S. come from Canada and New Zealand. 8. A large portion of the wild seafood we import comes to us illegally. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for a large portion of the global catch. A recent study in the journal Marine Policy found that as much as 30 percent of the wild fish the U.S. imports comes to us illegally, e.g., it’s outside any management system whatsoever. 9. Most tuna consumed in the U.S. are imported and often caught with the aid of a controversial technique called “Floating Aggregating Devices.” Most tuna live in open, “blue” water with very little structure or shade and are therefore attracted to any kind of structure they come across. In nature, this may be marine debris or rafts of sea grass. Recently, however, fishermen have figured out that anything thrown into the water will attract tuna in large numbers. These Floating Aggregating Devices, or FADs, draw in tuna from far away and are often seen as skewing the dynamics of the ocean because they make these large, Pelagic fish such easy prey. 10. The U.S. exports as much salmon as it imports. Much of the wild salmon caught in Alaska is exported. Meanwhile, most of the salmon Americans eat is farmed and imported, mostly from Chile. Salmon are not native to Chile or to anywhere in the southern hemisphere and, in some instances, are considered an invasive species. But it’s not just wild salmon we export. Overall, we send abroad about 3 billion pounds of mostly wild seafood every year — about a third of the total American Catch.

  • Marge Mullen

    Why I no longer eat seafood!!

  • Rodrian


  • O_Scotty

    I wish you would have included the mislabeling of seafood

  • MaryFinelli

    Bioaccumulated mercury, PCBs, dioxins, DDT, antibiotics, and pesticides; in addition to cholesterol, saturated fat and no fiber; the immense suffering of astronomical numbers of fish and other aquatic animals in addition to birds and other non-targeted species; and rampant human slavery. Add to this the fact that some 30% of the seafood sold in North America is reported to be mislabeled, so you don’t even know for sure just what you’re getting.

    All of the nutrients derived from animal-based seafood can instead be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources, including vegan seafood. It’s so irresponsible of the government to propose urging women and children to eat a minimum amount of fish. I hope Food Safety News will further expose it.

    Mary Finelli


      STOP trying to push your vegan lifestyle on other people, if someone wants to eat that way thats fine, I have no problems with vegetarians or vegans or whatever, but please stop trying to convert the world.

      Why do you only mention the cons of eating the way we were naturally designed to eat? Why do you not mention the benefits of being an omnivore? Why do you not mention the negative health affects of eating a vegan diet? If humans evolved to be strictly herbivores, we wouldnt eat any meat but thats not how nature happened. Feel free to defy nature, but stop lying to everyone else saying its a healthier diet.

      What about animals that kill other animals for food is that wrong? Humans are animals, we get killed then eaten by other animals too.

      what about sardines, anchovies and other high fecundity fish that dont bio-accumulate toxins? Whats wrong with eating them? And whats wrong with eating Mahi Mahi, another high fecundity species with an incredible metabolism?

      Everything that lives… dies… including plants, so get over it. Killing plants is the same as killing animals, I guess you think because plants dont move fast enough for you to see that its ok to kill then eat them. Well guess what, plants do move, just really slowly.

      Why do you think its ok to eat plants but not animals?

      If your going to have this nature saint attitude then dont eat anything that was once alive or shut up because your no better then anyone else just because you eat differently.

      • MaryFinelli

        Do you really not realize the difference between plants and animals? There’s a reason there are laws against cruelty to animals but not against cruelty to plants. Animals can suffer fear and pain. Plants don’t, so far as we know. It also takes many more plants to cycle them through animals for food than if the plants are eaten directly.

        It’s not solely I who advocate veganism. Many health professionals do, too, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

        Other animals eat meat out of necessity. That isn’t the case for us. We have a choice and can thrive on a diet free of animal products. Needlessly harming animals is animal abuse, and there is no valid justification for it. If you think killing plants is the same as killing animals than you should have no problem with someone killing you instead of pulling a carrot out of the ground because humans are animals, too.

        I won’t stop trying to prevent cruelty to animals. Stop trying to justify your appetite for food that causes others to suffer and die. You’ll be healthier for it, and the environment will be better off for it, too. Do the right thing, for everyone’s sake: Go vegan.


          Look your ideology is flawed, there is no way getting around the facts of life that in order to survive you must eat, in order to eat you must unfortunately end something else’s life. Whether it be a plant or an animal, you are still fundamentally doing the same thing by ending its time here.

          I do not support any corporation who needlessly harms animals. I do not support animal cruelty, but Slaughtering a cow and eating it is not animal abuse or needlessly harming an animal. That cow is not someones companion, the only reason why that cow saw the light of day was for its future as steaks and burgers.

          If you did an environmental impact study on the effects of transitioning the entire worlds population to a vegan diet I am sure you would kill, displace, and endanger a significantly larger amount animals, not to mention more fragile species then cows, pigs and chickens.

          So by doing what you think is best for the animals you may save millions of cows, at the cost of more deforestation and habitat destruction for animals that are not intended to be eaten by humans. Now these animals have to worry about being eaten by their natural prey in addition to us ruining their habitat= extinction

          It wasn’t up until recently that humans had a choice to not eat any animal products and actually survive. Your lifestyle is a privilege of the late 20th and early 21st century so enjoy it and shut up while the rest of us live our lives.

  • DPrty

    Great job on this article. Thanks.

  • Buy fish from local ethical suppliers. In San Diego we have Catalina Offshore Products and like a local farmers market you can talk to them about their suppliers.

  • MaryFinelli

    There are plenty of non-GMO vegan products. Obtaining adequate vitamin B is very easy to do without killing animals for it. As for anger, you sound like the angry one. Perhaps it’s from all the cholesterol, saturated fat, synthetic hormones and bioaccumulated toxins you ingest with your animal-based diet. You certainly seem to have a hard time formulating sensible sentences. If anything is unsustainable it’s animal agriculture, including fish farming, and commercial fishing. See also my response to “The Voice of Nature” above.

    • Lucas

      Mary, keep fighting the good fight.