I love October for two reasons—the weather and because it’s National Seafood Month. So even though every day means seafood at NOAA, I feel like we have special license this month to highlight seafood and all of the people who help make the United States a global leader in sustainability.
As a native Texan who spent the past 27 years in Alaska helping manage some of the nation’s largest and most valuable fisheries, I know first-hand what an amazing story we have to share. I also know we did not do this alone. We owe much of our success to our partnership with the regional fishery management councils, interstate fishery commissions, and our stakeholders, all working together to rebuild fisheries. This unique collaboration—driven by the Magnuson-Stevens Act—managed to effectively end overfishing and is steadily rebuilding domestic fish stocks. At the end of 2016, 91 percent of stocks for which we have assessments were not subject to overfishing and 84 percent were not overfished.
In many ways, seafood is part of the fabric of the United States. First, it’s a major economic driver. In 2015, U.S. fishermen landed 9.7 billion pounds of seafood while U.S. aquaculture farmers, both salt and freshwater, harvested another 627 million pounds for a combined value of more than $6 billion. That same year, the U.S. seafood industry as a whole—both domestic and imported—generated an estimated $208 billion in sales impacts and supported 1.6 million jobs.
Seafood is also nutritious and demand is growing. So while wild-capture harvest remains steady, we are looking to expand our supply through domestic commercial aquaculture. Approximately half the seafood eaten worldwide—including in the United States—is farmed. However, only 5 percent of our seafood comes from domestic aquaculture, even though U.S. laws governing the harvest and processing of seafood for human consumption are among the most stringent in the world. As I recently said at a Congressional hearing, one of my goals is seeing the United States make progress in expanding U.S. seafood production and exports through aquaculture and mariculture.
Finally, fishing and eating seafood is part of the cultural identity and lifeblood of many communities around our nation. Marine fish and fisheries—such as tropical tunas in the Western and Central Pacific, salmon in the Pacific Northwest, halibut and groundfish in Alaska, cod in New England, and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico—are vital to the prosperity and culture of those coastal communities. Subsistence and ceremonial fishing provides an essential food source and has deep cultural significance for indigenous peoples.
I could go on, but I will leave you with this. Get out there and enjoy some seafood, especially this month. Health experts say we should double our intake of seafood. The good news is there is plenty to choose from. And if you’re looking for more information or some recipes, visit our FishWatch website. It’s got all the information you need.
Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries.