Tilapia Swimming Towards the Top

Created on Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The National Fisheries Institute released their annual report of the top 10 most popular seafood items consumed in the U.S. in 2010 on Monday and the results were surprising. Remaining unchanged from 2009, we have shrimp taking top spot, followed by canned tuna and salmon. In what is being called one of the “most conspicuous trends in U.S. seafood consumption over the past decade” tilapia overtook Alaskan pollock to take 4th place, with the average American eating 1.45 lbs of the fish, up from 1.208 lbs in 2009.

In many ways, Tilapia’s popularity is not surprising. There is abundant supply and it is an affordable option for many seafood consumers. Also in its favor is its firm texture and mild flavor profile — a blank canvas for a large number of seasonings and cooking preparations. Next time you order fish tacos at a restaurant, ask what kind of fish is being used, there is a good chance that it will be tilapia.

And this brings us to the final question. How does tilapia rate in terms of sustainability? The answer, unfortunately varies. When grown in the U.S. in closed containment systems it’s a green “best choice” product but unfortunately a lot of the product is sold live into ethnic markets and hard to find at your local grocery store. Tilapia from Latin America (Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras and Costa Rica) is a yellow “good alternative” regardless of production method. Finally, there is red ranked tilapia grown in China and Taiwan that is deemed unsustainable.

So as Tilapia becomes more popular on U.S. dinner plates, and there is every indicator that it will, make sure you choose tilapia that is green or yellow ranked. And the best way to do this? Ask your seafood counter staff where their tilapia comes from, especially at FishWise Retail Partners, where this information will always be available.