BOSTON — THE winds of change in Moscow came to Gloucester, Mass., last week when the Sovetsk, a Soviet shipping vessel, pulled into the harbor. The Sovetsk is a part of the most recent joint fishing venture between the Soviet Union and the Resource Trading Company of Portland, Maine.
In 1987 and 1988, Resource Trading initiated the first joint ventures in Maine with a foreign fish-processing vessel. The Soviets bought menhaden and herring and returned this year for more of the fish.
``Seafood has always been an international thing,'' says Thomas Dowling, managing director of Resource Trading. ``However, I think we have witnessed a dramatic internationalization over the last few years in Maine and New England. This winter in Maine, Japanese technicians and representatives of Japanese trading companies were in just about every small village along the coast looking for fresh shrimp or sea urchins.''
Urchins are one of the specialties shipped to Japan by Ocean Traders Corporation, a growing Boston seafood company.
``There is a higher awareness today of which fish are valuable to the foreign buyer,'' says Paul Weismann, president of Ocean Traders. More than 90 percent of his company's exports, which include monkfish livers and frozen squid, go to Japan, Europe, and Canada.
Resource Trading and Ocean Traders Corporation characterizes the changing face of the United States seafood industry. It was among the 640 international seafood companies represented March 7-9 at the Boston Seafood Show. The largest exposition of its kind in the world, the show attracted exhibits from more than 26 countries and seafood professionals from more than 54 countries.
Fifteen years ago, there were no international seafood shows in the United States. Basically a cottage industry at that time, seafood was brokered over the phone or on the docks.
This changed in 1976 with legislation that established preferred fishing and processing rights for US commercial fishermen over other countries and extended US control of offshore fishing resources to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. This radically altered the nature of the US seafood industry. With the phase-out of foreign shipping vessels from US waters, joint ventures were formed and companies began to market overseas.
As the export industry expanded, product and demand changed. Traditionally, US vessels hunted for lobster, scallops, cod, and other species with a high domestic demand. Now, more exotic species, such as sea urchin, dogfish, pollock, and monkfish, are hunted and targeted for foreign markets.
Today, the US is the No. 2 fish exporter and the No. 2 fish importer in the world. Japan is the leading importer of US seafood, followed by Canada, Britain, France, and Korea.
Domestic demand for fish and seafood products currently exceeds US capabilities. Because of an increasing diet consciousness among American consumers, fish has become a more popular item. Statistics compiled by the National Fisheries Institute in Washington indicate that per capita consumption was 15.4 pounds in 1987. More than 60 percent of the US seafood supply was imported in 1988.
Many of the countries present at the Boston Seafood Show are vying for a larger share of the US market. Alastair Alexander of the Scottish Salmon Board says that ``the next major market for us to target is the US. The seafood market in the states is growing very rapidly.''
Meanwhile, John Cryer of the New Zealand Fishing Industry Board hopes there will be an orange roughy or hoki (two whitefish species indigenous to New Zealand) in every American skillet. And Bangladesh, a first-time exhibitor, wants to make the most of what Akmal Hossain of the Export Promotion Bureau calls the ``growing demand for Bangladesh seafood in the US.''