Outside the U.S.

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. For U.S. consumers of imported seafood, our goal is to make sure that seafood is safe, and that it comes from legal and sustainable fisheries.

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

One of the biggest challenges in international fisheries management is advancing our commitment to science-based management, for example, by setting sustainable catch limits based on scientific advice. Strengthening the quality of scientific advice - by encouraging all fishing partners to improve data collection, monitoring and reporting, and participation in stock assessments - is also critical. We also continue to look for ways that fishermen can avoid interactions with unwanted bycatch and use techniques to minimize harm to any ocean wildlife that is captured unintentionally. Another challenge is ensuring that all nations are in compliance with internationally agreed conservation and management measures.

We’re also engaged in a global effort to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which deprives legal fishermen and coastal communities of up to $23 billion of 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, and using prohibited fishing gear.

Seeking Solutions

International cooperation is crucial to addressing these challenges. To advance our goals, NOAA – along with other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard – participates 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.

NOAA is committed to using all the tools at its disposal to ensure a level playing field for U.S. fishermen, consumer confidence in the seafood in our marketplaces, and sustainable fisheries management.