Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will we run out of seafood by 2050?

No, this idea stems from a 2006 projection, corrected in 2009, that correlated declining catch rates with declining fish abundance. This is rarely an adequate measure of fish abundance because various biological, economic, and social factors and management decisions determine catches. Low catches can occur even when stock abundance is high; for example, with less fishing due to low fish prices or tightened management measures. In the United States, fisheries are scientifically monitored, regionally managed, and legally enforced under 10 National Standards of sustainability. Under these standards, catch rates in some U.S. fisheries have declined as we build more sustainable fisheries. As a result, our fish populations are rebuilding and overall fish abundance has improved. Many areas of the world have declining fish populations and insufficient regulation of fisheries. We need to support and continue our progress at home, while encouraging others to adopt similar practices to ensure we never have to worry about this myth becoming a reality.

 

Learn more:

Worm, et al., Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services, Science 3 November 2006: Vol. 314 no. 5800 pp. 787-790. Available online disclaimer.

 

Murawski, et al., Biodiversity Loss in the Ocean: How Bad Is It?, Science 1 June 2007: Vol. 316 no. 5829 pp. 1281-1284. Available online disclaimer.

 

Worm, et al., Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 31 July 2009: Vol. 325 no. 5940 pp. 578-585. Available online disclaimer.

 

Hilborn, Ray. Let Us Eat Fish, NY Times 14 April 2011: Available online disclaimer.

2. Are 85 percent of the world’s fisheries really in trouble?

Not quite—this figure comes from “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010” published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO divides the world into five categories of exploitation. In 2008, the data-year on which the 2010 report is based, the world’s fisheries were estimated as follows: under exploited (3 percent), moderately exploited (12 percent), fully exploited (53 percent), over exploited (28 percent), depleted (3 percent), and recovering from depletion (1 percent).

 

One of the 10 National Standards under which we manage U.S. fisheries is to achieve “optimum yield,” for instance, catching the amount of fish that will provide the greatest overall benefit to the nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreation, and still protecting marine ecosystems. With that definition, “fully exploited” is what fishery managers strive for, and under the FAO’s categorization, only 32 percent of the world’s fisheries would be regarded as in trouble (28 percent over exploited + 3 percent depleted + 1 percent recovering). However, 32 percent is still a concern that we and other nations must continue to address. The United States has demonstrated that with strong science-based regulations, transparent enforcement, and the fishing industry's commitment and involvement with stewardship, sustainable fisheries are the standard, not the exception.

 

Learn more:

The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome 2010. Available online. disclaimer

 

Worm, et al., Rebuilding Global Fisheries, Science 31 July 2009: Vol. 325 no. 5940 pp. 578-585. Available online disclaimer.

3. If a species is overfished, I should never buy it, right?

Not the case. In the United States, if scientists determine that a species’ population falls below a sustainable level (overfished), fishery managers put regulations in place to reduce harvest of the species and rebuild the population. Even if a species is overfished, limited harvest is often still permitted for that species at a rate that will rebuild the species and also sustain fishermen, working waterfronts, and the many U.S. jobs involved with seafood consumption. Learn the facts behind U.S. seafood on FishWatch—you’ll be surprised by some of the popular species that have been rebuilt or are actively rebuilding with sustainable harvest levels allowed.

4. Is most of the seafood we eat from the United States?

No. Although we eat a lot of sustainably caught and farmed U.S. seafood, we actually import around 91 percent of the seafood we consume in the U.S., resulting in an annual seafood trade deficit of more than $10.4 billion—second only to oil in the natural resources category. And about half of the seafood we import is farm-raised. While we continue to rebuild and maintain our wild fisheries, it is vital that we further develop our own domestic aquaculture industry. Additional sustainable aquaculture, as a complement to wild fisheries, could help meet the growing demand for seafood, create jobs in coastal communities, and help maintain working waterfronts.

5. Is farming seafood bad for the environment?

Aquaculture is widely recognized as an effective way to meet the seafood demands of a growing global population. But, like any other human activity, irresponsible aquaculture can have a negative impact on the environment. When practiced responsibly, aquaculture’s impact on wild fish and shellfish populations, marine habitats, and water quality is minimal. In the United States and other developed countries, aquaculture operations must meet rigorous food safety and environmental standards and are closely regulated on all levels. However, the United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products but a minor producer. U.S. aquaculture only supplies about 5 percent of our seafood. We must continue to develop innovative techniques and management practices to ensure we’re protecting our marine ecosystems as we increase sustainable aquaculture production at home.

 

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6. Is it true that I should never eat Chilean sea bass because it’s not sustainable?

Not necessarily, but it warrants concern. Caught in waters near and around Antarctica, Chilean sea bass is a premium fish that has a history of being illegally caught by fishermen looking to cash in on its popularity, making sustainable management of the species difficult. In 2000, more than 16,000 tons of Chilean sea bass were legally harvested, but up to twice that amount was estimated to have been harvested illegally. Now, due to increased monitoring and documentation efforts internationally, the estimated illegal harvest has been reduced substantially. Supporting legal harvests helps to combat illegal fishing of this species.

 

U.S. regulations only allow imports of Chilean sea bass caught within legal limits that provide for the sustainable use and conservation of this species. However, some illegally harvested Chilean sea bass does enter the United States. To help continue this progress and sustain this popular fish, U.S. retailers and restaurateurs need to insist that their fish brokers verify the source of their Chilean sea bass and buy this fish only if they are shown the proper documentation. Consumers should also ask questions before buying Chilean sea bass to ensure the fish were legally caught.

 

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7. Is seafood from the Gulf of Mexico safe to eat?

Consumers can be confident that Gulf seafood is safe to eat, and we take extensive steps to ensure that this remains the case. After closing oiled areas to fishing, NOAA, the FDA, and health and fisheries authorities from the Gulf States developed a comprehensive sampling and testing plan to ensure any area closed to fishing was safe prior to reopening it. Every sample from reopened waters has routinely tested 100 to 1,000 times lower than FDA’s “level of concern,” and all federal waters of the Gulf once closed to fishing are now open.

 

To add an additional level of screening, NOAA continues to test fish as they are brought onto the docks from commercial fishing vessels. The FDA has also implemented a risk-based surveillance sampling program of seafood products at Gulf Coast seafood processors, targeting oysters, crabs, and shrimp because they could retain contaminants longer than finfish. This sampling provides verification that seafood on the market is safe.

 

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8. Are there really 10 pounds of bycatch for every 1 pound of shrimp harvested in the Gulf of Mexico?

This number is outdated, published from a survey conducted in the Gulf of Mexico in the 1970s. Since the 1976 enactment of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (the comprehensive U.S. fishery law that conserves and protects marine resources), a pound of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico now yields much less bycatch. In 1998, the ratio was down to 4:1 bycatch to shrimp. And now that shrimp trawlers are required to use bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) that reduce finfish bycatch by an additional 30 percent, we estimate that number to be even lower.

 

Nationally, U.S. fisheries are required to minimize all bycatch and prevent the death of any marine animals that are accidentally caught. From bycatch reduction devices and turtle excluder devices required in the Southeast shrimp fishery, to the development and use of circle-hooks, weak hooks, weak links, pingers, on-board observers, and remotely mounted video cameras to monitor bycatch, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. fishing industry invest millions annually to minimize, monitor, and enforce against bycatch of all incidentally caught marine species. However, the United States cannot solve the world’s bycatch problems alone and is working in partnership with the fishing industry and environmental organizations to export these stewardship practices and technologies.

 

Learn more:

NOAA Fisheries National Bycatch Program

NOAA Fisheries Observer Program

Louisiana Sea Grant bycatch fact sheet disclaimer

9. Is fresh fish higher quality than frozen fish?

Most frozen fish today compares in quality to never-frozen fish. Fresh catches are immediately processed and frozen at very low temperatures, frequently right on board the vessel. Here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for frozen seafood:

 

  1. There should be no evidence of drying out, such as white spots, dark spots, discoloration, or fading of red or pink flesh.
  2. There should be no discoloration or signs of frost or ice crystals inside the package. If ice crystals are present, the fish has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen. There should be no liquid—frozen or thawed—evident in the package.
  3. Make sure there are no open, torn, or crushed edges on the package.
  4. Avoid packages that are above the frost line in a store’s display freezer.

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10. Should you eat seafood if you’re pregnant?

The benefits of eating a variety of cooked seafood outweigh the risks for new moms or moms-to-be. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant and nursing women to avoid eating the 4 fish that are highest in mercury:

 

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  • King mackerel

However, other seafood provides a great source of lean protein and important nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids aid in babies’ brain and eye development and that eating fish can help avoid depression during and after pregnancy. Women who are nursing or pregnant can safely eat a variety of cooked seafood and should eat at least 8 and up to 12 ounces of seafood a week to reap the health benefits for themselves and their baby.

 

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11. How do I know if seafood harvested in the United States is sustainable?

The United States is a recognized global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood. Fishery management involves regulating when, where, how, and how much fishermen can catch to ensure that they will be able to fish now and for generations to come. Seafood harvested in the United States is inherently sustainable as a result of the rigorous, science-based U.S. management process that ensures fisheries are continuously monitored, improved, and sustainable. This dynamic, science-based management process is rebuilding depleted fish populations and maintaining healthy ones, benefitting fishermen, fishing communities, and our fishing and seafood industries.

12. What is a stock assessment and why is it important to fisheries management?

A stock assessment is the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting demographic information to determine changes in the abundance of fishery stocks in response to fishing and, to the extent possible, predict future trends of stock abundance. Managers use stock assessments as a basis to evaluate and specify the present and probable future condition. Conceptually, this is similar to NOAA’s National Weather Service dynamic atmospheric models, which use multiple weather observations to calibrate complex atmospheric models that forecasters can use to make informed predictions. For more information, read Fish Stock Assessment 101.

13. What does it mean for a fish stock to be rebuilt?

Since 2000, 32 fish stocks in the United States have been rebuilt, but what does that really mean for the stock? When a stock is overfished, its abundance is low enough that it needs a rebuilding plan to grow. When the rebuilding plan is in place, fishery managers continue monitoring the population through routine stock assessments to determine the current status of the stock. When the abundance of the stock is at or above what fishery scientists call the maximum sustainable yield, we declare the stock rebuilt. Learn more.

14. WHAT DOES THE SEAFOOD INDUSTRY CONTRIBUTE TO THE U.S. ECONOMY?

The seafood industry—harvesters, seafood processors and dealers, seafood wholesalers and seafood retailers, including imports and multiplier effects—generated $129 billion in sales impacts and $37 billion in income impacts, and supported 1.2 million jobs in 2011. Learn more.