Global Wild Fisheries

Today, up to 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, and about half of this is wild-caught. A significant portion of this imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, and then reimported to the United States. Because of our interests both as a seafood-consuming nation and a fishing nation, it is critical that NOAA take an active role in shaping the conservation and management of international fisheries. NOAA is committed to using all the tools at its disposal to ensure a level playing field for U.S. fishermen, consumer confidence in safe and legal seafood, and sustainable fisheries management.

Top Imports

  • The United States mainly imports seafood from China, Thailand, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Ecuador.
  • Our top imports (by volume) include shrimp, freshwater fish, tuna, salmon, groundfish, crab, and squid. Check out U.S. foreign trade statistics.
  • Trade tracking programs monitor the international trade of some species such as bluefin tuna, swordfish, bigeye tuna, and Chilean sea bass by requiring that imports include documentation of details on catch—such as what gear was used and when and where the fish was caught.

Global Challenges

  • Advancing science-based management; for example, setting sustainable catch limits based on sound scientific advice. Encouraging fishing partners to participate in stock assessments and to improve data collection, monitoring, and reporting is critical to strengthening the quality of scientific advice.
  • Avoiding interactions with unwanted bycatch and using techniques to minimize harm to any ocean wildlife that is captured unintentionally.
  • Ensuring nations are in compliance with international conservation and management measures.
  • Combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which deprives legal fishermen and coastal communities of up to $23 billion in seafood and seafood products annually and threatens the long-term sustainability of global seafood supplies. IUU fishing can include activities such as:
    • Fishing without a license or quota for certain species.
    • Unauthorized transshipments to cargo vessels.
    • Failing to report catches or making false reports.
    • Keeping undersized fish or fish that are otherwise protected by regulations.
    • Fishing in closed areas or during closed seasons.
    • Using prohibited fishing gear.

Seeking Solutions

  • NOAA participates with other agencies such as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard in a broad range of international agreements. Regional fishery management organizations provide forums for fishing nations that share access to fish stocks to decide on appropriate management and conservation measures.
  • NOAA is actively addressing IUU fishing so that legal and sustainable fisheries are not disadvantaged by IUU activities. Our goal is to ensure that the U.S. import market—a significant source of global demand for seafood—does not encourage or reward illegal and unsustainable activity.

In the United States, we already have measures in place to restrict port entry and access to port services to vessels included on the IUU lists of regional fishery management organizations of which the United States is a member. A recently introduced Senate bill would implement an international agreement on Port State Measures that would benefit U.S. fishermen, seafood buyers, and consumers by keeping illegal seafood out of global trade.

  • We also work individually with other countries that have an interest in our management model, which uses the best available science to actively monitor and manage fisheries. Through these partnerships, the United States provides technical assistance in areas such as scientific data collection, legal frameworks, and enforcement programs.

Global Aquaculture

World-wide capture fisheries production reached a plateau in the mid-1980s, and even with improved fishery management, it is not likely to significantly increase. Meanwhile, seafood demand has risen significantly. To meet this increased demand, worldwide aquaculture production has grown annually by 8.3 percent since 1970, making it the fastest growing form of food production in the world.

Currently, about half of the world’s seafood comes from aquaculture, and this percentage is projected to increase. Many countries are developing regulatory systems for aquaculture and investing heavily in sustainable aquaculture research and development to provide seafood and create economic opportunities for coastal communities.

Global Aquaculture Production

Asia dominates global aquaculture production, accounting for 89 percent of global production. China alone accounts for 62 percent of global aquaculture production. Aquaculture production in the United States has not kept pace with production increases in other parts of the world.

The United States now ranks 13th in total aquaculture production behind China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Norway, Chile, the Philippines, Japan, Egypt, and Myanmar.

Farmed Seafood Imports to United States

The United States imports up to 90 percent of its seafood, about half of which is from aquaculture. This results in a large and growing annual seafood trade deficit of more than $10.4 billion. Most aquaculture imports are shrimp, followed by Atlantic salmon, tilapia, and shellfish (scallops, mussels, clams, and oysters).

Farmed Seafood Breakdown

Most of the seafood products listed below are farm-raised. However, some are from wild harvest, and our current trade statistics do not allow us to break down how much comes from each source.

  • Shrimp—Asian countries and Ecuador supply most to the U.S. market.
  • Atlantic salmon—Canada, Norway, and Chile supply most.
  • Tilapia—China supplies most, followed by Indonesia, Ecuador, and Honduras.
  • Scallops—mainly imported from China, followed by Canada, Mexico, Japan, Argentina, and the Philippines.
  • Mussels—Canada, New Zealand, and Chile supply most.
  • Clams—Asian countries and Canada supply most.
  • Oysters—mainly imported from China, South Korea, and Canada.


Regulation of aquaculture operations varies widely by species, farming system, and country. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring that seafood imports are safe for U.S. consumers. NOAA’s Seafood Inspection Program works closely with the FDA on this effort, offering a variety services that ensure compliance with all applicable food regulations, including audits of seafood processing plants, product inspection, and training.

For more information on how aquaculture is regulated in the United States, visit the Fisheries Aquaculture Policy.