The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries released a draft of its National Seafood Strategy this month with a goal of getting more seafood on consumer’s plates thanks in part to using technology to modernize the supply chain and industry infrastructure.
“The strategy also responds to the unprecedented challenges facing the U.S. seafood industry, including climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, new technologies and other ocean uses, and significant labor shortages and aging infrastructure,” said NOAA Fisheries as it opened up a 30-day comment period on the draft.
To implement the Seafood Strategy, NOAA Fisheries will partner with state and other federal agencies, the National Sea Grant College Program, Tribes, non-government organizations, fishermen, seafood farmers, and other stakeholders to address the challenges facing the seafood sector, especially when resources are limited.
“Changes in ocean conditions and the resulting shifts in distribution and abundance of marine resources, as well as the intensity of damaging storms, are affecting access to and production of seafood as well as subsistence and Tribal fishing,” NOAA said. “These factors, in addition to new ocean uses and advances in sampling technologies and data modernization call for an evolution in science and management frameworks for a climate-ready seafood sector.”
Supporting a Thriving Domestic U.S. Seafood Economy
The National Seafood Strategy outlines the direction for supporting a thriving domestic U.S. seafood economy. It describes an approach to enhancing the resilience of the seafood sector in the face of climate change and other stressors.
NOAA Fisheries says that vision hopes to ensure that:
- U.S. seafood continues to be produced sustainably.
- The U.S. seafood sector contributes to the nation’s climate-ready food production and to meeting critical domestic nutritional needs.
- U.S. seafood production increases to support jobs, the economy, and the competitiveness of the U.S. seafood sector.
- Supply chains and infrastructure are modernized with more value-added activity in the United States.
- Opportunities are expanded for a diverse and growing seafood workforce.
The National Seafood Strategy will focus on four goals:
- Sustain or increase sustainable U.S. wild capture production.
- Increase sustainable U.S. aquaculture production.
- Foster access to domestic and global markets for the U.S. seafood industry.
- Strengthen the entire U.S. seafood sector.
“A thriving, well-regulated domestic seafood industry – capable of competing at home and abroad – will translate into greater global seafood supply and food security from sustainable U.S. fisheries,” NOAA said. “It will also decrease our reliance on foreign fisheries that are at greater risk of overfishing, IUU [illegal, unreported, and unregulated] fishing, and forced labor.”
Alaskan Snow Crab Winter Harvest Canceled for 1st Time Ever
The seafood industry is still trying to process the fallout from the snow crab winter harvest season being canceled in the Bering Sea off Alaska for the first time in history in the fall.
“The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have completed analysis of 2022 NMFS trawl survey results for Bering Sea snow crab. The stock is estimated to be below the ADF&G regulatory threshold for opening a fishery. Therefore, Bering Sea snow crab will remain closed for the 2022/23 season,” said a release issued Oct. 10, 2022.
News sources reported that the snow crab news, coupled with the canceling of the fall Bristol Bay red king crab harvest, is considered a blow to the seafood industry and will likely lead to shortages and higher restaurant prices.
“I am struggling for words. This is so unbelievable that this is happening,” Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told the Associated Press (AP) , adding that some crabbers will go out of business.
The AP reported that the snow crab populations declined after a 2019 Bering Sea warming that scrambled the broader marine ecosystem. Last year’s snow crab harvest of 5.6 million pounds was the smallest in over 40 years.
NOAA acknowledged the seafood shortages that have dominated industry news since the pandemic started.
“The Covid-19 market disruptions highlighted systemic challenges to the U.S. seafood industry and the importance of supporting the entire seafood/fisheries value chain, including after seafood hits the docks,” NOAA said.
Is a “Blue Revolution” on the Horizon for the Seafood Industry?
Some are calling emerging technologies in areas such as alternative seafood processing and improved efficiencies in aquaculture the beginning of a “blue revolution” in the seafood industry.
“Today, innovations and disruptive technologies are addressing complex challenges in the aquaculture industry’s value chain,” EarlyBirds co-founder Jeff Penrose told Food Ingredients 1st. “This includes the need for decarbonization and adopting sustainable practices. We can even focus on a single category that is relevant to a particular component of the industry including sustainability and net-zero operations.”
The article pointed out that on the mechanical side of things, innovations in robotics can create aquaculture facilities that can operate with minimal oversight, reducing labor costs.
“Advanced sensors that can remain completely submerged almost indefinitely can supercharge the data that researchers need to tweak their processes,” Kris Poria, the other EarlyBirds co-founder, told the publication.
The article said that “supply chains can also be optimized using vehicles and refrigeration solutions connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to reduce transport times and costs and ensure that only fresh fish reaches the dinner table. Some scientists have even suggested the use of drones to monitor equipment in both onshore and offshore fish farms.”
A report last summer, published in part by the Norwegian Aquaculture Research Institute, showed how “technologies can support growth in the seafood sector, retain value in the supply chain and help in the transition towards net zero. The study highlights specific ICT technologies, such as blockchain (see notes), internet of things, and artificial intelligence that are most suitable for seafood businesses in this part of the world.”
Elaine Jamieson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise of blue economy and food and drink said: “With the increasing demand for sustainable seafood, innovative use of technologies is becoming more important. This project examines cutting-edge approaches to growing and maintaining high-value opportunities in seafood industries. The report highlights how digital tools, such as blockchain, can be used to boost consumer confidence and engagement internationally. Being able to track a product’s entire journey recognizes the value associated with provenance, environmental stewardship, quality, and trust.”