Another paradox for the industry is that while 78 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t large quantities of fish being caught domestically.
“We import a lot of fish to meet domestic demand,” DiDomenico said, “but we also export a whole lot of fish to other countries.”
Fish that previously would have been exported are now staying in the United States in greater numbers, though. As New Jersey’s ethnic populations rise, fish that would have been exported to places like Asia are finding their markets much closer to the home ports.
Monkfish is one example, Fisherman Dock Co-op’s Lovgren said. Asian groups are big consumers of monkfish, Lovgren said, which is especially prized for a soup made from its liver.
As more U.S. residents who traditionally wouldn’t have strayed from flounder and tuna are exposed to other tasty varieties, more of the fish caught off New Jersey will stay in domestic markets, DiDomenico said.
“It’s about cultural trends,” he said. “Some people will only eat flounder. But we’ve got great sea bass and monkfish and scup and mackerel and squid. The more people try them, the more they go for the different varieties.”
Branding New Jersey Seafood
In early-2005, the first effort to brand a seafood product under the “Jersey Seafood” label and standards was kicked off as the New Jersey Department of Agriculture partnered with the USDA to award a $47,100 grant to a group of seven aquaculture producers to market clams.
The New Jersey Seafood Marketing Group, led by third-generation bayman George Mathis of Egg Harbor Township, began selling fresh, locally raised hard clams in mesh bags at retail stores and farm markets.
“I hope that the quality standards that we are implementing, as well as the new packaging, will go a long way toward furthering consumer interest and purchasing of the best available product,” Mathis said at the launch of the new effort.