How to Make your Seafood More Local

Hint: start with the squid

Paul Greenberg
4 min readMar 23

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How to Clean a Squid by John Donohue

Even as a local food movement continues to grow all over the US, the squid many of us love to eat deep fried, grilled or thrown into a stir fry, are being caught, frozen, sent to China, unfrozen, processed, refrozen and sent back to the United States in giant 50,000-pound shipping containers.

That’s right: Every year, 90% of the 230 million pounds of California squid (by far the state’s largest seafood harvest) are sent on a 12,000-mile round-trip journey to processing plants in Asia and then sent back across the Pacific, sometimes to seaside restaurants situated alongside the very vessels that caught the squid in the first place.

California squid, wild Alaska salmon and tons and tons of Bering Sea pollock, make the round trip to Asia and back into our ports, twice frozen.

And it’s not just squid. Overall a third of what is caught in American waters — about 3 billion pounds of seafood a year — is sold to foreigners. Some of those exports, such as California squid, wild Alaska salmon and tons and tons of Bering Sea pollock, make the round trip to Asia and back into our ports, twice frozen.

Why? To begin with, Americans want their seafood recipe-ready, and seafood distributors here don’t want to clean it. It’s messy, it takes time and, of course, it costs money. For many processors, the much lower labor costs in Asia make it less costly to pay for transporting squid to China and back than to clean it here.

Moreover, seafood processing plants are typically located close to the shore, which is exactly where well-heeled people like to build homes. Across the country, processing plants, oyster farms and canneries have been pushed out of their valuable shorefront locations by residents who didn’t want them next door. As a fisherman in Gloucester, Mass., told me recently: “Fish houses are getting turned into hotels all the time. But you never hear about a hotel getting turned into a fish house.”

So are we to let our seafood production infrastructure vanish entirely and watch dumbly as American fish and shellfish slip down the maw of the vast churning seafood machine of Asia…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org