For years people have looked to the sea for comfort, for inspiration. But what first brought us to the sea was the search for sustenance. As a New Englander, I know this story well.
We fished for bass off the rocky shores of the New England coast before the birth of our nation. We ate shellfish: clams, mussels, and lobsters. And of course, cod, a bottom dwelling species that was said to be so plentiful in the North Atlantic that sailors could walk across their backs. Cod became the symbol of prosperity in New England, and it was fish that fueled the growth of our economy, and our nation.
Moving south along the East Coast to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, clams, and oysters have shaped the culture; the fisheries here so robust that at one time they supported almost ten thousand watermen.
The shrimp fleets and oyster flats that line the coasts of the Carolinas, the swooping nets a stark contrast against southern sunsets and spartina filled marshes. Shrimp and oyster boils bring together neighbors, family, and friends--through harvesting and eating, seafood creates community.
Rounding the bend into the near-shore fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico, snapper, grouper, and shrimp fishing traditions run deep. Resilient communities that have faced countless stresses from both from mother nature and mankind, maintain their identity as some of the nation’s best seafood producers.
Westward still to California where generations have dove to search the benthos for abalone and urchin. The legendary ebb and flow of the sardine, its story painted so vividly by Steinbeck, drives the harvest here. Hawaii’s strong maritime heritage runs deep, both culturally and spiritually. Hawaiians, skilled with preparing seafood in its purest form, developed poke, now enjoyed across the US.
Northward to the Pacific Northwest where the iconic Pacific salmon is revered, and fishermen harvest dungies, and albacore.
Further north still to Alaska - fishermen from all over the country come to these legendary waters to hone their skills and experience these rich fisheries. Salmon, here too is a symbol, as are halibut and crab. Alaskan fishermen are both proud and protective of the marine resources that fuel their economy and put US seafood on the plates of consumers around the world.
October is National Seafood month. A time to reflect on the importance of US fisheries to our culture, and to our economy. Seafood is as much a part of our identity today as it was two hundred years ago. Our seafood traditions are something we, as Americans, should be proud of, as the US continues to lead the world in sustainable management and fisheries innovation. In this way, we ensure that our strong ties to the sea will continue for generations of Americans to come.
When choosing seafood for you and your family, always make sure you know where it comes from - doing so gives you your first clue into knowing whether it was sustainably sourced. At a restaurant? Ask your waiter or waitress. At a grocery store? Ask the person behind the seafood counter or check packaging to ensure this information is readily available!