Understanding Seafood Isn't Real Simple


Steven Hedlund

Published on
February 27, 2008

Consumer perception of seafood was frequently broached at this week's International Boston Seafood Show. At Monday's SeaFood Business Summit, panelists stressed the need to restore consumer confidence in farmed seafood in the wake of the import alert on Chinese product. At Tuesday's "Shrimp Forum," speakers emphasized the need to educate consumers about certification, which is minimizing the environmental and social effects of shrimp farming and reducing economic fraud within the shrimp trade. The key, everybody agreed, is helping consumers distinguish perception from reality by reaching out to the mainstream media, which doesn't always get the story right.

For example, Real Simple in its March issue ran a story advising readers to avoid eating Atlantic salmon and imported shrimp, which the magazine says contribute to overfishing and are fed "large doses" of antibiotics, and to choose U.S. farmed seafood over wild seafood due, again, to overfishing.

In addition to vastly oversimplifying the story, the magazine failed to explain that domestic farmed seafood represents a small percentage of the 12.3-billion-pound U.S. seafood supply - less than 1 billion pounds (imported shrimp alone accounts for more than 1 billion pounds). That doesn't leave readers with much choice, and they may opt for beef or chicken instead of seafood.

Seafood production isn't as black and white as Real Simple makes it out to be. There are environmentally conscious fish farms and environmentally unfriendly ones. There are well-managed fisheries and poorly managed ones. But most consumers don't know that.

Don't take the magazine's advice lightly - Real Simple has a circulation of nearly 2 million. What's more, consumers rely heavily on the media to make food-purchasing decisions. More than half of respondents (52 percent) to a 2007 International Food Information Council survey said they use the Internet to find news about health and nutrition, followed by TV at 27 percent and magazines at 26 percent.

And reach out to reporters. As a journalist, I appreciate when readers provide feedback, whether positive or negative. If you read a story that's oversimplified or just plain inaccurate, contact the reporter and explain your side of the story. Every little bit helps in the effort to provide buyers, and in Real Simple's case, consumers, with the right information.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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