Fisheries and seafood

What is a fishery?

A fishery can be many things: an occupation, an industry, or a season for catching seafood, particularly fish and shellfish. Fisheries can also refer to the locations where seafood is caught, or the business of catching the species.
Fisheries are composed of three different types of fishing:

  • Commercial: Catching and marketing fish and shellfish for profit.
  • Recreational: Fishing for sport or pleasure.
  • Subsistence: Fishing for personal, family, and community consumption or sharing.

Seafood on a bed of ice.
United States takes leading role in global fisheries management
The United States is one of the largest markets for seafood in the world. Every American eats almost 16 pounds of seafood a year, spending about $96 billion annually on seafood. As a result, we have a major impact on the sustainability of the world’s fisheries and in global seafood trade.

How does NOAA manage U.S. fisheries?

Many factors go into managing fisheries, or ensuring that fish populations stay healthy and sustainable. NOAA Fisheries' role is to support our country’s seafood supply, protect ecosystem health and sustainability, create jobs, boost the economy, and provide fishing opportunities for all types of fishermen. In 2017, U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries contributed to over 1.7 million jobs and over $244 billion in national fishery sales.

NOAA Fisheries manages animals that maintain balanced and thriving ocean ecosystems, including fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and sea turtles. NOAA Fisheries and their regional partners use ecosystem-based fisheries management methods to meet sustainable fishery goals. Important ecosystem components, such as protected species, biodiversity, and habitats, must be taken into account along with fishery industry priorities to help achieve these goals. Recognizing the interconnectedness of these factors helps maintain resilient and productive ecosystems ー including the human communities on which they depend ー as they respond to climate, habitat, ecological, and other environmental changes. 

Fishermen aboard the Miss Sue, of Newport, Oregon, haul in their catch of rockfish from off the U.S. West Coast. Rockfish represent some of the most common groundfish off the West Coast, and several species have been rebuilt in recent years.
Devastating collapse of groundfish fishery forces a more sustainable future
The groundfish fishery closures in 2002 resulted in hundreds of thousands of square miles of West Coast waters to shut off to the once lucrative bottom fishing of the previous decade. Now, each fisherman is fully accountable for adhering to a quota for each species, and everyone’s catch counts toward overall fishery limits.

Sustainable fisheries

Sustainable management of fisheries means that fishery harvest rates are regulated to ensure healthy fish populations for future generations. NOAA Fisheries manages fish populations through stock assessments, which measure the impact of fishing on fish and shellfish subpopulations. They project harvest levels that maximize the number of fish that can be caught every year while preventing overfishing, or the removal of too many fish. NOAA Fisheries works to protect the marine ecosystem, and where necessary, will work to rebuild depleted stocks.

The U.S. is a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood. As of June 2020, NOAA has rebuilt 47 fish stocks — including chinook salmon and Atlantic sea scallops — and has created some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world by working closely with commercial, recreational, and tribal fishermen. Sustainably managing fisheries requires sound science, innovative management approaches, effective enforcement, meaningful partnerships, and strong public participation.

Effective fishery management starts with accurate scientific information about fish and fisheries. Using information such as stock assessments, cooperative research, and socioeconomics help to make the best fishery management decisions. 

Theresa Peterson and her family haul in a catch of salmon off Kodiak, Alaska.
Women’s global fisheries participation
Many women play a vital but undervalued role in commercial fisheries around the world. A new study showcases an innovative approach to bring women’s contributions to light.

Fisheries policies

States usually manage fisheries from their coastline out to three miles into the ocean. The U.S. exclusive economic zone is a 4.4-million-square-mile area that extends from three to 200 nautical miles off the coast of the United States, which NOAA Fisheries is legally responsible for managing. NOAA Fisheries works with federal, regional, state, tribal, and U.S. territorial partners to ensure the sustainable fisheries management.

NOAA Fisheries works with regional fisheries management councils to monitor the status of fish stocks, set catch limits, enforce regulations, and reduce bycatch. NOAA Fisheries’ five regional offices, six science centers, and more than 20 laboratories across the U.S. and U.S. territories work with partners to ensure the sustainable management of the nation’s fisheries. 

A blacktip shark.
How our shark finning ban helps us sustainably manage shark fisheries
Hear from a shark management expert about NOAA Fisheries requirement that fishermen bring sharks to shore with their fins naturally attached.

Fisheries and community

In order to preserve marine life, the communities that depend on them must be involved. Fishermen, indigenous communities, whale watching operators, and other members of coastal communities all interact with marine resources in different and vital ways. Fisheries and protected species can be managed in a way that works best for everyone by understanding both the social and economic aspects of communities.

Economic and socio-cultural analysis help managers evaluate the costs and benefits of different activities, prioritize needs, and encourage policies that maximize societal benefits from ocean and coastal resources. Various federal laws require organizations to examine the social and economic impacts of policies and regulations at the community level.

Grilled swordfish with mango chutney.
6 reasons to add seafood to your menu
Thinking about adding fish and shellfish to your weekly menu? Check out six reasons to eat more seafood.


Even if you are hundreds of miles from a coastline, fisheries may still be important in your life. Have you ever gone fishing in your local waterway? Do you eat seafood? Recreational fishermen in the United States take millions of fishing trips per year and seafood consumption in the United States is rising. Cutting-edge science is making aquaculture, or seafood farming, safer and more sustainable. As such an important aspect of American culture, how does your community engage with fisheries? 

Updated August 2020