Need To Assess Quality of U.S.-Produced Seafood for Domestic and Foreign Consumption

CED-81-20: Published: Oct 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 1980.

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GAO is studying the adequacy of current Federal efforts to improve the quality and safety of seafoods processed in the United States for domestic and foreign consumption. The study includes an assessment of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) program and efforts to improve the quality and safety of seafood harvested and processed in the United States.

A controversy exists over whether the quality of U.S.-produced seafoods is competitive for foreign trade or adequate for domestic consumption. NMFS officials believe that the variable quality of U.S. seafoods is contributing to the low volume of seafood sales in the United States. The U.S. trade deficit for all seafood products is approximately $2.8 billion. The United States is importing 60 percent of the edible seafood consumed domestically. East coast fish products have a reputation for poor quality in Western Europe. Senate hearings disclosed that surveys found the quality levels of seafoods in the domestic market to be very low, with large quantities receiving substandard grades. The reasons products were substandard included: (1) the use of old or spoiled raw material; (2) poor processing techniques; (3) improper handling during transportation and storage; (4) excessive storage time; and (5) poor packaging. NMFS is trying to encourage the export of more U.S. seafood, but these efforts will likely go unrewarded if the U.S. seafood processor is unable to deliver a quality product to the foreign buyer. The NMFS inspection program is voluntary and is not used, at this time, by many in the seafood industry because they believe it provides few benefits and is too costly. GAO believes that there is a need for a comprehensive, objective assessment by NMFS of the quality of seafood produced by U.S. processors for domestic and foreign consumption. The positive benefits which might accrue to reduce the U.S. seafood trade deficit offset any budgetary considerations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Administrator of NOAA to initiate a study to assess the quality of U.S. seafood produced for domestic and foreign consumption.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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