In southern New England, most of the seafood you see and eat comes from halfway around the world. Unless you pay close attention to where your fish is coming from, it is likely that it is from China or Canada, and the same can be said throughout the country.
According to a September 2011 National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration report, about 86 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and almost half of it is from aquaculture, farmed seafood. Conversely, the U.S. exports 63 percent of its domestically produced seafood.
A 2011 Cornell University study of the Rhode Island commercial fishing industry confirmed that the main imported species include butterfish, squid, mackerel and the American lobster. The main species exported included Illex squid, mackerel, and herring. Unfortunately, it states that there’s no readily available data directly tracking state seafood exports and imports.
But what numbers are available suggest a thriving industry. According to the U.S. Department. of Commerce, in 2008, the state was the 12th-largest seafood exporter in the country, with total exports exceeding $30 million. Little Rhody was the second-largest exporter of squid, accounting for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. exports.
According to the Cornell study, the total value of sales of fish in Rhode Island in 2010 was $201 million, a figure that includes sales associated with fish landed by Rhode Island vessels, and transactions for dealers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, restaurants and grocers.
The sales associated with imports in 2010 totaled $562.3 million, and the fishing industry as a whole employed about 7,000.
Seafreeze Ltd., of North Kingstown, is the largest producer of sea-frozen fish on the U.S. East Coast. Their expertise is in international shipping and receiving of frozen fish. Exported species commonly include squid and mackerel and the company supplies a worldwide range of markets. They export frozen fish across the globe, much of it caught off the Rhode Island shore, where it is processed and frozen offshore, at sea.
The Providence Bay Fish Co., of South Kingstown, has been exporting fish for 21 years. Managing Director Martin Vincent said the firm is a brokerage, arranging whole lines of seafood to be sold for overseas use. “We export frozen fish to central Europe, such as Germany, France and the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands. In Asia we supply China, Hong Kong and South Korea, with a little to Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand,” Vincent said. Species they supply include lobster, snow crab, monkfish, dogfish, squid, sea cucumbers, and a variety of others. Generally, the monkfish and scallops originate from New Bedford; the bulk of the remainder comes from Canada.