How Much Seafood Is Consumed Each Year? Seafood Consumption Hit Record-Breaking High

Delicious seafood platter showcasing a variety of fresh marine delicacies


Recent data published by the National Fisheries Institute highlight a striking surge in how much seafood Americans are indulging in, with a notable uptick of 1.5 pounds from the previous year, reaching a significant 20.5 pounds per person in 2021. This remarkable leap in seafood consumption isn’t just a number; it’s a testament to the evolving palates and preferences of diners across the country.


It’s clear that Americans are not just eating more seafood; they’re seeking out specific qualities that align with their values. The highest regard is given to seafood that is farmed responsibly, carries a sustainability certification, and promises a safer, tastier, and higher quality dining experience. These attributes don’t just influence the casual diner; they are also key decision factors in the fine dining scene.


Americans collectively pour a staggering $102 billion into their seafood consumption each year, 35% enjoyed it in their homes and a sizable 65% savored seafood in the ambiance of restaurants or other away-from-home settings.


As the numbers reveal, Americans are not just enthusiastic about seafood; they’re also conscious about the sustainability of their choices. For these consumers, labels carry weight, offering assurance about the seafood’s journey from water to table, its origin, and the environmental consideration behind its harvest.


The American government has undertaken a series of notable initiatives to assure the longevity and vitality of the nation’s fisheries. Key among these is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a cornerstone policy setting the stage for the sustainable management of marine populations. The enforcement baton is handed to the National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency at the vanguard of advocating for and ensuring adherence to responsible fishing methods.


Have you noticed how seafood consumption behavior is evolving? Are you aware of the seafood consumption benefits that go beyond mere taste and venture into the realm of environmental sustainability? The dialogue on excessive seafood consumption is equally vital, as it’s not just about quantity but about the quality and source of our seafood.

How much seafood is consumed each year in the US?


Based on information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we see that in the United States, the per-person average for fresh and frozen seafood intake stood at 14.6 pounds in the year 2020. If we delve deeper, specifically into the consumption of fresh and frozen shellfish, the figure comes to 6.3 pounds for every American.


Now, from a global perspective, seafood consumption varies widely from various dietary habits that could be influenced by cultural, economic, and environmental factors. For instance, Japan has long been recognized for its high fish consumption, which plays a crucial part in its culinary tradition and dietary preferences. Fish consumption in China, for example, is a significant factor due to the country’s immense population and growing economic power, affecting global seafood markets.


Meanwhile, in Europe, seafood consumption behavior might reflect a mix of traditional cuisines and newer, health-conscious trends that highlight the benefits of seafood consumption.

What is the percentage of people who eat seafood?


Data from Jahns et al. (2014) offers an insight into the habits of American seafood consumers. It’s noteworthy that around 80% of US adults partake in seafood consumption, highlighting the prominence of fish and shellfish in their diet. 


The study, which analyzed data from 15,407 adults participating in the 2005–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, reveals that the likelihood of consuming seafood is influenced by socio-demographic factors. 


Younger individuals, along with those with lower income and education levels, showed a reduced probability of seafood consumption. Strikingly, the majority of seafood consumers—80% to 90%—did not meet the recommended levels of seafood intake based on their energy requirements.


Average annual per capita consumption of seafood worldwide from last few years


Globally, the average amount of seafood enjoyed by each person saw a modest climb from 19.9 kilograms in 2014 to 20.5 kilograms in 2020. Yet, in a surprising shift, 2021 witnessed these figures dip to a low of 19 kilograms per capita. 


Delving into the American context, seafood often plays second fiddle to meat, with households typically opting for seafood just 4.3 times annually, a stark contrast to the 27 meat purchases within the same period. 


On average, American households purchase fresh seafood about 4.3 times per year, compared to 27 purchases of meat per year. 


According to a January 2018 survey, 55 percent of Americans living in the Northeastern United States frequently eat seafood at home. The Midwestern United States had the lowest consumption of seafood during that time.


What is the seafood consumption footprint?


The seafood consumption footprint is a crucial measure that reveals the degree to which nations depend on international sources for their seafood. This is pivotal as we navigate the complexities of food security and the necessity for sustainable sourcing—a topic that’s at the forefront of international discourse. 


With the global population on the rise, the call for more food, seafood included, intensifies. The seafood consumption footprint shines a light on the scale of global reliance on imported seafood, supplying governments with the data needed to foster international cooperation and craft policies geared towards the enduring viability of seafood resources.

Global demand for seafood is growing


As our world’s population continues to expand, coupled with an increase in affluence, it’s no surprise that the appetite for seafood is on a steep climb, with projections suggesting a staggering near twofold increase by 2050. 


This trend, highlighted by Rosamond Naylor and her team at Stanford University, echoes the already observed doubling of global fish consumption since 1998, setting the stage for an 80 percent surge from our current levels as we approach the mid-century.

Why measure global seafood consumption footprint?


With the data presented, we can see that our consumption habits significantly affect the oceans’ health and the sustainability of marine life. Notably, the annual global demand for seafood is a massive 143.8 million tonnes for human consumption, with an additional 10.2 million tonnes used for other purposes, bringing the total to 154 million tonnes. 


China is at the forefront with an overwhelming consumption footprint of 65 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the European Union, Japan, Indonesia, and the United States follow with notable margins, reflecting their substantial impact on global seafood demand.


When we delve into the fish consumption per capita by country, a different picture emerges. The Republic of Korea leads with 78.5 kg per person, indicating an intensive individual impact, while countries like Norway, Portugal, and Japan also show high rates of per capita consumption.

EU policies to preserve fish stocks


The European Union takes a proactive stance to protect vital fish populations. Annually, the EU determines catch thresholds, commonly referred to as Total Allowable Catches (TACs), which set the stage for sustainable fishing practices. These TACs, distributed into national quotas, entrust EU member states with the duty to prevent overfishing.


The governance of significant EU fishery resources unfolds at the Union level, employing strategies like:


  • Multiannual management plans
  • TACs established on an annual basis.


Every multiannual blueprint is designed with objectives to sustain fish stocks, often paired with supplementary conservation measures. Integral to these plans is the aim for Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), complete with a timeline to reach this goal.


When it comes to shared fish stocks under joint management with countries outside the EU, the Union aligns its fishing opportunities with the outcomes of periodic dialogues rooted in international fishery cooperation agreements.


These accords are pivotal to the EU’s fishery governance, broadly categorized into bilateral and multilateral agreements. Post-Brexit, EU-UK shared stock fishing opportunities adhere to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, effective May 1, 2021, mandating yearly discussions to set fishing quotas for the subsequent year.