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.
Seafood demand is growing fast, and the global supply of wild-capture fisheries has remained flat for more than 20 years—the ocean has given what it can. As such, the future of sustainable seafood must include both farm-raised and wild-capture seafood. The United States is recognized as a global leader in sustainable seafood—both wild-caught and farmed.
Marine wild-capture fisheries in the United States are scientifically monitored, regionally managed, and enforced under ten national standards of sustainability through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—exceeding the international standards for ecolabeling of seafood.
Although current U.S. aquaculture production is small and lags behind the rest of the world, U.S. fish farms operate under some of the world’s most robust environmental protections, producing environmentally safe, sustainable sources of domestic seafood, creating jobs, supporting resilient working waterfronts and coastal communities, and providing international trade opportunities.
Visit FishWatch—the nation's database for sustainable seafood to find up-to-date information on the status of some of the nation’s most valuable marine fish harvested in U.S. federal waters as well as U.S. farmed fish that help meet our country’s growing seafood demand.
In 2015, the average American ate 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish, for a total of nearly 5 million pounds.
In 2017, the top U.S. marine aquaculture species were oysters ($186 million), clams ($129 million), and Atlantic salmon ($61 million).
In 2017, commercial and recreational fishing industries supported 1.74 million jobs and generated $244.1 billion in sales impact.
In 2018, U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds of seafood valued at $5.6 billion.
Get up-to-date information on the status of some of the nation’s most valuable marine fish harvested in U.S. federal waters as well as U.S. farmed fish that help meet our country’s growing seafood demand. Also learn about buying and handling seafood, fraud, and health and nutrition.
The NOAA Fisheries Seafood Inspection Program provides inspection services to the seafood industry that help them comply with food safety regulations. This helps ensure that the seafood on your plate is fresh, safe, and sanitary.
IUU fishing occurs when fishing or seafood businesses circumvent conservation and management measures and avoid the operational costs associated with sustainable fishing practices. IUU fishing undermines the reputation of legitimate fishing and seafood operations and the consumer confidence on which they rely. We work with partners around the world to combat this complex international issue.
Since 1938, we’ve been working with industry to provide accurate and unbiased reports depicting current conditions affecting the trade in fish and fishery products.
We also maintain a foreign trade database dating back to 1975 that allows users to summarize U.S. foreign trade in fish products. You can summarize the weight and dollar value by year, product, country, and type of trade. This data comes from the Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, which is responsible for compiling information submitted by importers and exporters to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
As part of our mission to sustainably manage fishery resources, we implement international trade monitoring programs initiated by international fishery management organizations or required by domestic law.
Want to eat more seafood but don’t know where to start? FishWatch arms you with the facts about what makes U.S. seafood sustainable—from the ocean or farm to your plate. Get up-to-date information on the status of some of the United States’ harvested marine fish as well as farmed fish, and learn more about various aspects of U.S. seafood, summarized below.
Seafood provides key nutrients and healthy protein essential for strong bones, brain development, and healthy immune and cardiovascular systems. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 8 or more ounces of seafood per week.
When buying seafood from your local seafood counter, check to make certain that there is no darkening or brown or yellowish discoloration around the edges of fish fillets and steaks, especially if the edges appear dry or mushy. To store fresh fish fillets or steaks, seal them in plastic bags or containers, and cover them with ice in a pan.
Studies and investigations have found that various types of seafood fraud are committed along the supply chain. Types of fraud range from simple misunderstandings or lack of information, to blatant deception to increase profits and attempts to launder illegally harvested seafood.
Each year we produce three reports on the status of U.S. marine fisheries: Status of the Stocks, Fisheries of the United States, and Fisheries Economics of the United States. The reports take a detailed look at the fisheries and track important indicators such as annual seafood consumption and the productivity of top fishing ports.
Eat Seafood, America! is the driving message of a partnership effort aimed at helping Americans stay healthy while supporting the 2 million American workers in the seafood industry. The campaign is being coordinated by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership and supported by 36 organizations, including NOAA Fisheries.
U.S. fisheries are big business, providing jobs and recreation and keeping our coastal communities vibrant. The United States is a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood. Fish and shellfish are renewable resources—they can reproduce and replenish their populations naturally. Because of this, we can harvest fish within certain limits without depleting the whole population. Sustainable fishery management is the process of using science to determine these limits—catching some fish while leaving others to reproduce and replace them in the future.
Science is a big part of our success. Effective management for both wild-caught and farmed species starts with accurate scientific information about fish and fisheries. In fact, U.S. law requires that fishery managers use the best science available to make their decisions.
We maintain a national database of U.S. commercial fishery landings, or catch, data dating back to 1950. We update this data annually and include data reported by states. This data is then used to compile the annual Fisheries of the United States report. You can search landings data by time period or gear type, state, species, and price per pound.
Scientific stock assessments are critical to modern fisheries management. Using data gathered from commercial and recreational fishermen and our own on-the-water scientific observations, a stock assessment describes the past and current status of a fish population or stock. Stock assessments help us answers questions about the size of the stock, and make predictions about how a fishery will respond to current and future management measures.
Using stock assessments and other data, we determine whether a fish stock’s population size is too small (overfished) or the annual rate of catch is too high (overfishing). We report these status determinations quarterly to provide fisheries managers and the public with information about how well current management measures are working.
From tackling seafood fraud to helping crackdown on illegal fishing internationally, enforcement is critical to protecting marine resources, like fish and shellfish, and their habitat to safeguard the health of seafood consumers and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Aquaculture refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Researchers and aquaculture producers "farm" all kinds of fish, shellfish, and plants.
Marine aquaculture is also a resource-efficient way of increasing and diversifying U.S. seafood production and can expand and stabilize the U.S. seafood supply in the face of environmental change and economic uncertainty.
We have a lead role in science and management of marine aquaculture—the growing of species that live in the ocean. U.S. marine aquaculture primarily produces oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and salmon as well as lesser amounts of cod, moi, yellowtail, barramundi, sea bass, and seabream.
Marine aquaculture can take place in the ocean in cages, on the seafloor, or suspended in the water column or in on-land, man-made systems such as ponds or tanks. Recirculating aquaculture systems that reduce, reuse, and recycle water and waste can support some marine species.
In 2013, U.S. aquaculture produced $1.4 billion annually, which accounted for 20 percent of all U.S. seafood production and fishery products by value. Still, we have less aquaculture production than much of the world and import more than 90 percent of our seafood. Expanding aquaculture is a way we can address our nation’s $13 billion commercial seafood trade deficit.
In addition to closing the deficit, aquaculture has the potential to generate tens of thousands of new jobs on America’s waterfronts. Aquaculture provides a year round source of jobs and economic opportunities that supplement seasonal tourism and commercial fishing. The industry also creates diverse types of jobs in other sectors, such as seafood processing, equipment manufacturing, marketing, agriculture, and food services.
Seafood is a healthy, low-calorie protein with unique nutrient qualities that give it health benefits that no other food provides. U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that Americans double their seafood consumption to receive maximum health benefits, which is more seafood than wild-caught fisheries alone can supply. That’s where aquaculture comes in. Aquaculture is one of the most resource-efficient ways to produce protein with fewer environmental impacts relative to other animal proteins. It can be produced using less freshwater and land resources and with fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Fish, in general, convert feed efficiently and have a small carbon footprint relative to other popular protein sources. Farmed-raised fish complement wild harvests as a way to provide more sustainable seafood to consumers.
Compared to other forms of agriculture, marine aquaculture is new and dynamic. The science and technology that drives aquaculture innovation helps grow an industry, and can adapt to new opportunities and changing environmental conditions. Our scientists are focusing their efforts on many exciting new areas, including:
Refining growing methods for existing aquaculture species.
Developing aquaculture techniques for new species.
Addressing ocean acidification.
Improving feeds, vaccines, and vaccine delivery systems.
Engineering solutions for growing fish in both offshore waters.
Recirculating systems, advancing genetic, genomic, and breeding programs.
Refining ways to enhance species and habitat health through restoration.
We work across multiple federal and state agencies as well as with private, academic, and non-governmental organizations to examine scientific issues that will lead to greater efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and environmental compatibility in marine aquaculture. We are working to address the technical and scientific barriers to marine aquaculture in a number of ways including through in-house research at our science centers, grants, and cooperative agreements with academic and other stakeholders.
Past research projects have responded to key scientific, engineering, environmental, and economic questions such as health and nutrition, best management practices, ecosystems monitoring and management, engineered production systems, and legal and operational frameworks for aquaculture.
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