Seafood is one of the most expensive forms of protein on the market. It is also one of the healthiest.
However, due to the limited supply of fish and the dangers involved in wild fishing, the price of seafood is not going to decrease anytime soon.
The range of seafood prices varies greatly, depending on whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised, the distance to the coast, and the species of fish.
Keep reading to find out why seafood is so expensive and learn some ways to save money on your favorite protein in the future without sacrificing quality.
Why Is Seafood So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Supply And Demand
Seafood is in high demand all over the world.
Supply is less because it is harder to acquire the ingredients from the sea than on the land.
The demand for seafood is high, especially for wild-caught fish because of population growth, health benefits, and sustainability concerns.
The supply is quickly dwindling due to overfishing and polluted waters.
Demand highly outweighs supply when it comes to sea fishing, so the prices are high.
On the other hand, if the demand for cattle increases, farmers can increase their supply by increasing cattle mating (though it may take a while).
If the price of chickens rises, more can be easily hatched.
It is the same for other types of land animals such as duck, pork, and geese.
The same cannot be said for wild seafood.
Over the past 50 years, fish farming has more than quadrupled.
At the same time, the world’s population has doubled, so the demand for fish has increased exponentially.
The average person now eats more than twice the amount of seafood compared to 50 years ago.
Roughly 60 million metric tons of seafood have been harvested for consumption since 1980.
This might vary a bit each year.
In 1981, 9% of the world’s seafood supply was farm-raised.
Now, it is closer to 50%.
For the past decade, farm-raised seafood has been the fastest-growing protein market, with an 8% growth rate each year.
By 2030, it is estimated that farm-raised fish will account for over 60% of the world’s seafood supply.
Some countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Japan, Korea, and more have a huge emphasis on seafood as a focal point of their diet.
The Mediterranean diet has become especially popular in recent years and was even voted as having the healthiest food choices.
This has encouraged more people to turn to seafood as their main protein source.
Globalization has also popularized the consumption of sushi, which of course, has also increased the demand for fish around the world.
Even though fish farming has increased, the supply of wild fish has decreased, so the overall supply has remained relatively consistent.
The same supply, paired with ever-increasing demand, means that prices will rise exponentially.
2. Seafood Is Harder To Maintain
Seafood spoils easier and is more likely to contain bacteria, so it is more challenging to keep it in good quality.
The flavor of seafood changes drastically within 24 hours, so it is essential to get the seafood from point A to point B as fast as possible.
Wild seafood has a very short shelf life.
It would be better to transport fish, crabs, and other seafood while they are still alive so that they will last longer, but that poses some challenges because the fish would need to be kept in specific temperature and pH-controlled environments.
If they come from the ocean, there is the added complication of keeping them in a tropical saltwater tank.
Therefore, a lot of money needs to be spent to replicate their natural environments to keep the fish and crustaceans alive, or money needs to be spent on high-tech refrigeration equipment that will maintain the shelf life of the fish that have already been caught and killed.
Unlike meat, which has a less-delicate shelf life, fish needs to be packaged very specifically so that it does not spoil.
It needs to be kept with ice, Styrofoam, and sometimes gel packs.
Ice melts, so the fish must be kept in freezer trucks that require a lot of gasoline and electricity to maintain.
The further the trucks must travel, the higher the price of the fish is going to be.
Especially inland, seafood is hard to transport, so it creates an added cost.
It is much easier to maintain crops on farmland, take care of crops, and harvest berries.
Farmed seafood, poultry, beef, and produce can be delivered via cargo ship, rail, and trucks, which are relatively inexpensive forms of transportation, whereas fresh wild fish must be sent via air cargo, overnight express buses, and expedited trucking because of the short shelf life.
The logistics of transporting and maintaining seafood are much more expensive.
Naturally, seafood is cheaper and fresher near bodies of water.
That’s why coastal areas are more known for their seafood than, say, Kansas.
You still can get seafood in landlocked areas.
It just means there are going to be added steps and costs involved to transport your food there.
If you are on the coast, the fish will not have to be transported from far distances, which removes the added logistics cost.
4. Seafood Is Hard To Catch
Most seafood now requires huge fishing rigs that are expensive to send out.
They must go far out to sea and use extremely large nets.
It is a huge operation that is not cheap.
It is much harder to consistently produce seafood than any other type of meat.
It is especially challenging to catch fish in large quantities.
Especially since so many people now want their fish to be wild-caught rather than farm-raised, this requires expensive expeditions into the ocean for fisherman to catch their fish organically.
Compared to fencing in millions of cattle, chickens, and pigs, you need skilled crewmen and captains with knowledge of fish ecosystems, mating habits, and effective bait.
The sea can be especially treacherous, so strong ships equipped with large nets, food, fresh water, and medical supplies need to be funded for each fishing expedition.
If there is an injury, it is not financially efficient for the ship to return to shore in the middle of a journey.
Television shows like Deadliest Catch highlighted the perils involved in deep-sea fishing.
Fishermen of Alaskan crab face the highest on-the-job mortality rate and are considered to have the most dangerous job in the world.
These fishermen are constantly exposed to harsh conditions at sea in addition to frigid temperatures to maintain shelf-life.
Since this job is so dangerous, workers require a higher salary to make it worthwhile.
When fishermen get higher salaries for the dangers, skills, and commitments involved in their positions, the wages are offset by the expensive price of the seafood sold.
5. Seafood Fishing Jeopardizes The Ecosystem
Several documentaries and news pieces have come out in the past year, such as Seaspiracy, about the consequences of extensive sea fishing.
This is because the environment simply cannot handle all the fishing that the world’s population now demands.
Some information has been released about tuna fish containing dolphin meat.
Therefore, prices of seafood have skyrocketed for some products, so that extra ethics supervisors can go aboard the ship to ensure healthy fishing habits.
Since the stock of fish is rapidly decreasing, prices for seafood will continue to rise until more sustainable fishing practices will be created.
About 50% of the world’s seafood supply is wild-caught and the rest is farm-raised.
If we increase the number of wild fish caught, we will also be jeopardizing future catches.
Many of the world’s fishing shoals have already been severely depleted.
Many populations of fish are already on the decline.
6. Seafood Is Healthier And More Sustainable Than Livestock Consumption
As more information comes out about the consequences of eating meat, such as factory farming and high cholesterol, people are looking more to fish as a source of protein.
Fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, Vitamin B2, calcium, phosphate, zinc, and other minerals that improve brain function and overall bodily health.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming fish twice per week.
Bacon and hamburgers, on the other hand, do nothing but clog our arteries.
People are becoming more attuned to animal rights, as documentaries such as Food Inc. and Death on a Factory Farm have shone a spotlight on the inhumane treatment of farmed animals.
They are raised in cramped cages and given hormones and antibiotics that make them very sick and even unable to stand.
When these animals’ meat is consumed, those hormones and antibiotics enter our human bloodstream and cause hormonal disorders, antibiotic resistance, and more health issues down the line.
The United States especially does not have many regulations governing meat farming, so fish, especially wild-caught, has become an especially popular protein alternative.
7. Farm-Raised Fish Is Also Hard To Maintain
If you are not getting wild-caught fish, you’re getting farm-raised fish.
Even though this may not require expensive sea expeditions with qualified crewmen, fish farms are still difficult to maintain.
Aquaculture requires more skill than livestock, including proper climate and clean conditions.
Fish need to be kept in decent spaces because cramped tanks can lead to bacterial infections.
Since aquaculture requires a very specific and high level of expertise, only some people are qualified to maintain and run fish farms.
As a result, there are fewer fish farms, and the ones that are available can charge more for their products.
Fish farming requires a lot of resources and very skilled management.
8. It Depends On The Rarity
Some types of seafood are rare, so they cost more.
For example, caviar, lobster, and oysters are rarer than other types of fish, so they come at a much higher price point.
There are also specific species within these groups of seafood that can increase the price even more.
For example, Almas Caviar is a specific type of caviar that is sold for $25,000—six months of an average worker’s salary, or even a whole year’s salary for some people.
9. Seafood Preparation Is Very Specific
Seafood is more difficult to process than meat. It usually requires specialized mass fillet factories whereas meat can simply be cut and sold by your local butcher.
Fish needs to be processed at central locations because of the specific health regulations and requirements of the quality of the fish and the equipment.
For some types of seafood, dishes need to be prepared in a certain way so that the customer does not get sick.
For example, pufferfish is an expensive luxury dish because a qualified chef needs to know the exact way to prepare it.
When not cooked correctly, pufferfish can be more poisonous than cyanide.
10. Fishermen Do Not Get The Same Subsidies As Farmers
Another reason that seafood is so expensive is that fishermen do not receive nearly the same subsidies that farmers do.
Though fishermen have been campaigning for increased subsidies for years, this is not likely to happen as conservationists have been fervently demanding fishing regulations.
These regulations stipulate the kind and quantity of fish caught.
The regulations also impose rules on the people who are allowed to fish.
People need licenses to conduct commercial fishing, and those who break the rules will face intense fines.
Processing these licenses and documents is quite expensive, so fishermen charge more for their products to offset this cost.
Frequently Asked Questions About Seafood
Now that you know why seafood is so expensive, you may have some more questions about the price and quality of your fish.
1. Is Seafood Cheaper Than Meat?
No, seafood is much more expensive than meat.
Salmon fillets average at about eight dollars per pound, which is much more than beef sirloin, one of the most expensive cuts of steak available.
Salmon is not even the most expensive seafood on the market.
Shrimps, lobsters, caviar, and oysters are sold for much more.
2. What Is The Cheapest Seafood?
Whitefish is typically the cheapest seafood.
You can find cheap seafood in cans or bags at the supermarket.
Other ways to decrease your price of seafood are to buy frozen fish, buy in bulk, or buy cheaper brands.
Be warned, though. If you are looking for cheaper seafood, you are probably going to sacrifice some quality as well.
If you need to decrease your food expenses, it might be worth buying cheaper meat or vegetables rather than sacrificing the quality of your seafood.
There are exceptions to this, of course.
Canned tuna can be found at a very low price point without sacrificing quality.
3. What Is The Most Expensive Seafood In The World?
The most expensive seafood in the world is bluefin tuna.
In 2019, a 612-pound bluefin tuna was sold for three million dollars.
How Can I Save Money On Seafood?
There are quite a few ways that you can save money while still indulging in all the health benefits and rich flavors that come with seafood.
You can try to look for white, flaky fish in the grocery store because that is usually cheaper than other kinds of fish.
Another option is to choose mackerel over tuna.
Tuna is an expensive kind of fish, but mackerel is a much less expensive alternative.
It has a very similar taste and is a bit oilier, but it will save you a lot of money in the long run.
You can cook mackerel in much the same way that you prepare tuna.
Buying frozen fish will also help you to cut down on costs.
When you want to eat it, you can thaw the fish in your home.
This is another added benefit because, with fresh fish, you must eat it within a day or two.
Frozen fish can be eaten on your own time.
Similarly, canned fish like tuna, anchovies, and sardines have a long shelf life and can be eaten at your convenience at a low cost.
Buying fish in bulk is another way to cut down on costs.
Like most things that you can buy wholesale, buying large quantities helps to pare down the price.
Stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and Costco all carry seafood in wholesale quantities at lower prices than you could find at the local grocery store.
Of course, keep looking for sales.
Sometimes, grocery stores will have sales on certain kinds of fish, or you can clip coupons to use on your seafood.
Often, fish that is close to expiring will be sold at a lower price.
If you are planning to freeze it or cook it within the next few days, you should take advantage of the offer and buy your fish at a lower price.
Just remember, if any kind of fish has a strong, unpleasant “fishy” odor, it is probably past its expiration date and will not be good to eat.
If you are hoping to indulge in high-quality seafood like lobster and shrimp, you can buy their tails instead.
Seafood tails are just as delicious as the rest of the creature and are sold for a much lower price.
You can purchase several tails at the same price as one entire lobster.
Seafood is an expensive source of protein.
As the quantity of factory farming has increased to meet increased demand, wild-caught fish have been on the decline.
This makes for a wide gap between supply and demand that drives up prices.
Fishing can also be extremely dangerous and requires skilled labor.
The cost of fish is set to offset the higher wages required by fishermen.
This does not mean that you can’t enjoy seafood.
There are plenty of lower-cost options and ways to save money at the grocery store.
Though seafood may be more expensive than other types of meat, fish consumption is a long-term investment in your health.