Understanding Sustainable Seafood

Well-managed wild-capture fisheries and environmentally responsible marine aquaculture play an increasingly important role in our food supply, our health, and the environment. Sustainable seafood is a continuous journey. We continually monitor our dynamic ocean resources to determine if overfishing is happening and respond quickly with appropriate measures. And environmental issues that once plagued newly emerging fish farms 40 years ago have evolved into some of the most environmentally efficient food production facilities in the world. Learn more about the science and management that makes U.S. seafood sustainable.

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood is the most environmentally efficient source of protein on the planet. In the United States, both wild-caught and farmed fish and shellfish are managed under a system of enforced environmentally responsible practices. Both wild-capture and farmed fish are essential for ensuring sustainable supplies of seafood are available for our nation and the world.

Is U.S. seafood sustainable?

From wild-capture fisheries to farmed fish facilities, the United States is a recognized global leader in sustainable seafood.

Wild-capture marine fisheries in the United States are conducted under science-based fishery management plans developed by regional fishery management councils through an open, public process, and using the best scientific information available. By law, U.S. seafood must be caught according to fishery management plans that:

  • Consider social and economic outcomes for fishing communities.

  • Prevent overfishing.

  • Rebuild depleted stocks.

  • Minimize bycatch and interactions with protected species.

  • Identify and conserve essential fish habitat.

Through this process, fish populations are managed to provide for today’s needs while allowing the species to reproduce and be available for future generations. Learn more about wild fisheries management in the United States. 

How does NOAA Fisheries make sure U.S. fisheries are sustainably managed?

U.S. fisheries are scientifically monitored, regionally managed, and legally enforced under 10 national standards of sustainability. Managing sustainable fisheries is a dynamic process that requires constant attention to new scientific information, so that management actions can adapt to changing ocean conditions.

Fishery managers use a variety of scientific information—stock assessments and species and ecosystem research—to set harvest and operational requirements for each fishery. These requirements support the goals of sustaining fish populations, protecting habitat and other species, and keeping fishermen on the job. Even if a species is overfished, this management system allows for restricted harvest levels to rebuild the stock and keep responsible fishermen on the water and fishing communities at work. So you can be assured the U.S. seafood you see at the store is being actively managed for today’s consumers and future generations.


What role does aquaculture play in sustainable seafood?

Although the sustainability of our domestic wild-capture fisheries continues to improve, we cannot meet increasing domestic demand for seafood through wild-caught fisheries alone. Over the past 30 years, global wild-capture fisheries have plateaued while aquaculture has become the fastest growing form of food production worldwide. The United States produces a relatively small amount of seafood from aquaculture, and relies heavily on foreign aquaculture imports to meet the growing demand for healthy protein.

It is critical for the United States to expand the aquaculture industry. By growing our seafood locally, we can ensure a safe, secure, and sustainable local seafood supply. Marine aquaculture also creates jobs, supports resilient working waterfronts and coastal communities, and provides new trade opportunities.

Learn more about aquaculture.

How does the United States contribute to sustainable fisheries internationally?

The United States has interests as both a seafood-consuming nation and a fishing nation, so it is critical that we take an active role in shaping the conservation and management of international fisheries. NOAA Fisheries supports U.S. participation in a number of international fisheries agreements, takes steps to address global illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and provides technical assistance to other countries interested in the U.S. fisheries management system.

Learn more about international cooperation for sustainable fisheries and seafood.