Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Importance of Fish and Seafood in Brazilian Cooking

With one of the world's longest coastlines, it isn't surprising that Brazil is a country full of fish and seafood eaters. The tropical and sub-tropical waters of the South Atlantic support a large fishing industry, and traditional Brazilian cuisine makes liberal use of the sea's bounty. In fact, Brazil's per capita consumption of fish, which is 26 pounds (12 kgs) annually, corresponds exactly with the World Health Organization's recommended consumption - 12 kgs. By contrast, Americans consume only 16 pounds (7.5 kgs) annually per capita. Of course, Brazil still lags behind world champion fish eaters the Japanese, who annually consume 88 pounds (40 kgs) of fish.

There are some interesting statistics, however, in a recent report from my home state Ceará's Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture that indicate that it's not just the Atlantic ocean supporting the seafood diet of Brazilians. The two states that have the highest levels of fish consumption are Amazonas and Pará. Although Pará does have a stretch of oceanic coastline, the predominant source of fish for the inhabitants of both of these states is the Amazon River system. Consequently, in the region where fish consumption is highest in Brazil, the fish on the table is likely to be a freshwater species.

Harvesting Tilapia
Ceará's consumption of fish is 12 kg per capita, which follows only Amazonas and Pará and gives the state 3rd position in the rank of fish consumption in Brazil. The state's 40,000 registered commercial fishermen annually harvest 88,000 tons of fish and seafood, most of which goes to feed the national population. It's interesting to note in the report that in that harvest of 88,000 tons of fish, 25,000 tons are tilapia - a freshwater fish, originally from Africa, that is sustainably farmed extensively in Ceará. So even in a coastal state like Ceará, about a third of the fish consumed is freshwater and produced by aquaculture.

As the oceans' stock of wild fish continues to be depleted by overfishing, aquaculture will of necessity become increasingly important to the world's food supply in the years to come. Making sure that aquaculture is a sustainable and non-polluting industry will also become equally important. From the report by Ceará's fishing and aquaculture department, it appears that the state has already made significant progress along that route.

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