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Top Story Illustration by Mike Gorman U.S. per-capita seafood consumption has declined for the last six years. Protein prizefght Seafood consumption is down, but as meat prices soar, can fsh get back in the ring? BY JAMES WRIGHT I n this corner, hailing from all around the globe, the healthiest lightweight protein contender in the world — seafood! In the other three corners, the reigning domestic heavyweight champions of chomp, the dinnertime dominators — beef, poultry and pork. Will seafood ever be a contender? Its record in the protein battle is not terribly impressive, particularly at retail, where only a third of U.S. seafood is purchased. And the knockouts are mounting up: Seafood consumption in the United States — the world's third-largest seafood market after China and Japan, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization — keeps falling despite Americans dishing out more dollars overall for fsh and the prevailing wisdom (backed by overwhelming scientifc evidence) that says seafood is the heart-healthy choice. 18 SeaFood Business January 2014 Seafood, particularly omega-3 fatty acid-rich fsh, has been linked to not only reduced cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but also improved brain functioning, stroke prevention and lowered risk of breast cancer, among other medical fndings. Yet for six straight years (2007 to 2012) the average U.S. consumer enjoyed less of the sea's bounty than the year before. Per-capita seafood consumption, a key fgure in determining the market's strength, fell to 14.4 pounds in 2012, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). Tat's down from 15 pounds in 2011, an all-time high of 16.6 pounds in 2004, and far less than what consumers in Japan (121.7 pounds per capita), China (70.2 pounds) and Europe (about 45 pounds) enjoy. Price is one barrier to increasing seafood consumption; it's the most expensive of the four major protein categories, in average price per pound (see chart, page 20). But protein costs are rising across the board, with further increases expected; drought and escalating feed prices are big factors in meat price increases that should make seafood more competitive. While there are options at the lower end of the price spectrum like pelagics (mackerel, sardines, anchovies), whitefsh (pangasius, tilapia, pollock) and certain types of shellfsh like mussels, they simply don't resonate with budget-minded U.S. shoppers. To one retail expert, it's no secret why seafood is losing Visit us online at www.seafoodbusiness.com