That demand -- part of a larger trend of infusing everything from salts and cocktails to fruit and teas with a kiss of smoky flavor -- has smoked seafood producers moving fast to expand production.
The federal government does not track smoked seafood consumption, but sales at 18,000 supermarkets, mass merchandisers and club chains jumped 17% last year, 12% in 2011 and 4% in 2010, according to market research firm Nielsen Perishables Group.
Smoked seafood imports to the U.S. have been climbing, from $75 million in 2006 to $135 million in 2011, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It makes sense that smoked seafood sales are growing. American diners have become more sophisticated about their seafood, and smoked seafood tends to be a higher-end product, says Gunnar Knapp, an economics professor at the University of Alaska-Anchorage who has studied seafood trends for more than 20 years.
"The opportunity is bright for products that are high-quality, taste good and are healthy," he said. "I think smoked seafood fits in all that."