The challenges of increasing fish and seafood consumption

Marine and freshwater fish species are abundant in Mexico, making it one of the world's top twenty fish-producing countries.

The challenges of increasing fish and seafood consumption
The difficulties in promoting higher intakes of fish and shellfish. Photo by CDC / Unsplash

The production and consumption of fish and seafood have gradually increased in recent years and remain a growing market worldwide. Mexico is one of the world's top twenty fish producers and has a great diversity of marine and freshwater species in its territory.

In national waters, on both coasts, more than six hundred species of fish and shellfish are extracted for commercial purposes, and approximately seventy percent of the catch is destined for direct human consumption.

This great diversity means that the consumer can have different and very varied fishery and aquaculture products available throughout the year. Fish and seafood consumption in Mexico is influenced by the region, economic, social, cultural, and religious factors.

In addition, fish and shellfish are incorporated into a great variety of dishes in Mexican cuisine, especially in coastal states. Thus, we have from the traditional pan de cazón from Campeche, aguachile from Sinaloa or caguamanta tacos from Sonora.

Seafood consumption increases during Lent and at the end of the year, although our annual consumption is surprisingly low.

In the last eight years, per capita consumption has increased by approximately 5 kg and Mexicans currently consume an average of 12 to 13 kg of fish and seafood per person per year, consumption values that are still below other types of proteins such as beef, chicken, and pork.

It is surprising that having commercially available a great variety of products caught in Mexico, plus some imported ones, most of the time we focus on the consumption of a few species.

A nationwide study reports tuna, shrimp, and mojarra/tilapia as the most consumed products by Mexican households. However, according to the information reflected in the marketing chains, the list of the most popular and most demanded products is a little longer: clam, tuna, shrimp, dogfish, sea bass, mahi mahi mahi, red snapper, crab, sole, grouper, mullet, mojarra, oyster, octopus, snook, sardine and sierra, among others.

The excessive demand focused on some products leads to the overexploitation of some species and in some cases the substitution of high-value species. In other words, we are sold a "pig in a poke" and are given a product of low commercial value instead of another of higher value, which is what we are looking for.

Recently a study revealed that this practice is much more frequent than we suppose in Mexico and that it is common that we offered and are buying basa instead of grouper, catfish instead of red snapper, or tilapia instead of snook. This illegal practice is common when there is no traceability of fishery products or failures in their legislation.

To avoid these problems, in addition to legislating to improve the traceability of Mexican fishery products, it would be important to publicize more widely the species that are available locally, since an informed consumer makes better decisions.

Author: Lorena Noriega Orozco, CIAD researcher.