ARLINGTON, Va. -- Americans seem to know what kind of seafood they like. For each of the last seven years, tuna and shrimp have been the two most consumed species in the United States, according to seafood consumption statistics released by the National Fisheries Institute here.
In 1993, Americans consumed 3.5 pounds of tuna and 2.5 pounds of shrimp in edible weight per capita. The same amounts of each were consumed in 1992, according to the study. Alaska pollock, at 1.2 pounds in edible weight consumed per capita last year, was number three for the second year in a row.
"We've been tracking consumption since 1987," said an NFI spokeswoman, Kathy Snider. "Tuna is always number one, and shrimp is always number two."
Cod, salmon, catfish, flatfish, clams, crabs and scallops, in that order, rounded out the top 10 for 1993.
The same 10 species have been appearing on the NFI list for the past six years, Snider said. During the first year statistics were compiled, oysters appeared on the list, but have not been on it since. Snider said shoppers consistently buy the same species because that is what they know.
"People are not willing to experiment," she said. "These are pretty mild tasting. They're familiar, and people feel comfortable preparing them at home," she said of the top 10 items.
Changes within the top 10 list itself are not dramatic. Last year, salmon moved up a notch to number five, bumping catfish down to number six. Flatfish, including flounder and sole, and clams also traded places, with flatfish ranking seventh and clams eighth in the most recent study.
The changes in position represent "modest shifts in availability rather than any fundamental change in consumer preferences," according to NFI's executive vice president, Lee Weddig.
Snider said the NFI is making an effort to create interest in lesser known types of seafood. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NFI has been promoting cape shark and skate this summer.
Tempting consumers with other types of seafood may help relieve some of the demand for seriously overfished New England species like cod and haddock, Snider said.
"It's an attempt to get people to branch out more and let the stocks rebuild," she said. The NFI recently sponsored promotions in supermarkets in Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington that allowed customers to sample cape shark and skate. The NFI also provided recipes for skate and cape shark.
"It's kind of early to tell, but the initial response was real good," Snider said. Overall, Americans are eating more seafood. Last year, per capita consumption was 15 pounds, a 1.4% increase from 1992, she said.
The top 10 seafoods represent approximately 80% of the total per capita consumption of seafood in 1993, according to the NFI, a non-profit trade association that represents 1,000 companies involved in the fishing and seafood industry. Last year, Americans consumed a total of 3.8 billion pounds of seafood, measured in edible weight, the study said.