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Seafood report shows key shellfish consumers include Maine's Vietnamese, Cambodian populations

The goal of the project was to quantify the economic contribution of the entire seafood sector to the Maine economy to make data-driven policy decisions.

MAINE, Maine — The seafood sector in Maine supports thousands of jobs and brings in billions in revenue. It also contributes to the prosperity of Maine's coastal communities.

A newly released report was commissioned by the Seafood Economic Accelerator for Maine. SEA Maine is an industry-led initiative that brings together leaders in Maine's commercial fishing, aquaculture, and marine economy.

The goal of the project was to quantify, for the first time, the economic contribution of the entire seafood sector to the Maine economy and provide the necessary tools to make data-driven policy decisions regarding the sector as a whole and the marketing of the sector. 

The report found that Maine's seafood sector contributed over $3.2 billion dollars in total economic output to the Maine economy and supported 33,300 jobs statewide in 2019, including 23,846 in-sector industries and 7,300 additional jobs supported from other indirect and induced multiplier effects.

Tae Chong is the director of multicultural marketing and strategies for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Included in the report is Chong's analysis titled "Multicultural Market Analysis: Cambodian, Vietnamese Seafood." He found that immigrants and refugees, and in particular, the Cambodian communities, are significant to Maine's seafood because, on average, immigrants and refugees and people of color spend more per capita on food, have more capital to spend, and have more mouths to feed. Many prefer seafood as a primary source of protein.

"On average, this means the average Cambodian community in Maine and beyond consumes seafood ten times a month," Chong explained. "This means Maine hospitality and restaurants should be marketing to the Asian community because they are frequent buyers, and their larger families make a bigger seafood purchase than most families and their kids are the future seafood consumers Maine's seafood industry so desperately needs."

Fishermen's Net in Brunswick highlights Chong's efforts in his study. It's an Asian-owned family seafood market and restaurant that brings local and sustainably-sourced seafood to the multicultural market locally and out of state through overnight shipping. 

"We introduced products like Maine periwinkle, razor clams, Jonah crab on top of our already well-known live lobster," Nguyen said.

Nguyen also wants to incorporate authentic Asian flavors into Maine seafood, and he's hoping to expand their palettes by offering other shellfish dishes that Mainers don't typically eat.

"Growing up in Vietnam around the seafood industry, my parents spent over 30 years raising various types of seafood, including tiger shrimp, escargot, [and] seabass," Nguyen said. "I know firsthand the cycle of our seafood from when they were hatched to the end products through my mother's delicious meals. And I really want to introduce that to our local market as well as our customers across the U.S."

Chong found that Cambodian and Vietnamese communities in Maine are less than 5,000 people combined, and these populations are spread throughout southern Maine. He reports the average U.S. adult consumes about 16 pounds of seafood annually, whereas the average Vietnamese adult consumes about 83 pounds of seafood annually.

"What we need to do is—how can we prevent people from driving two or three hours away to get their weekly groceries? {We want them] to start to shop in places like Fishermen's Net or other places where we can promote more Maine products to them, whether it's the Hannafords of the world or other places, but those large businesses need to see this population as an opportunity," Chong said.

"Right now, about 75-80% of my customers are Vietnamese, from all over the place... California, Texas, Missouri, North Dakota, everywhere," Nguyen sad.

The report was undertaken by the Middlebury Institute for International Studies Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) and the University of Southern Maine Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).

"If we can promote seafood and multicultural seafood diets, its going to help normalize the new palette for everyone, and that's what's going to help drive our industry," Chong explained.

Click here for a link of Tae Chong's full report titled: "Multicultural Market Analysis: Cambodian, Vietnamese Seafood."

Click here to read the full Economic Impact report by SEA Maine.

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