More About U.S. Fisheries


Our nation’s journey toward sustainable fisheries began more than 35 years ago and continues to evolve.

In the early 1970s, federal fisheries activities were limited to supporting treaties governing international waters, which at the time were defined as waters a mere 12 miles or more off our nation’s coasts. In 1976, Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which:

  • Extended the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) out to 200 miles.
  • Eliminated competition from the foreign fishing fleets off our coasts.
  • Established our basic fisheries management system.

By the late 1980s, however, modern fishing fleet and advancements in fishing technologies were leading to the depletion of some of the nation’s most iconic fisheries. Adjustments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act were needed, and in 1996, it was amended to focus on protecting fish habitat and rebuilding fisheries. Since then, Congress has reauthorized the Magnuson-Stevens Act several times to strengthen the law to better conserve and manage our fisheries.


NOAA Fisheries is responsible for managing fisheries in U.S. federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore, or 9 to 200 miles offshore of Texas and the west coast of Florida). NOAA Fisheries’ scientists and managers work with regional fishery management councils to:

  • Monitor fish populations and fisheries.
  • Set regulations to ensure sustainable harvests and practices.

The councils include representatives from the fishing industry, environmental groups, states, and tribes. Coastal states are in charge of the fisheries that operate inshore (out to 3 miles or 9 miles off Texas and the west coast of Florida). Interstate commissions help coordinate management among states in the same region. NOAA Fisheries, the councils, and the coastal states and commissions support and advise each other and work together to ensure management is consistent across jurisdictions.

The public can also play a role in our fisheries management process by:

  • Attending meetings.
  • Commenting on proposed management measures.
  • Serving on panels and committees.
  • Providing data through cooperative research.


More than 100 federal laws guide U.S. fisheries management. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that fisheries meet 10 national standards for fishery conservation and management. These standards work to sustain:

  • Our fishery resources (fish and shellfish).
  • The ecosystems in which they live (habitat and all the creatures that live there).
  • The people who depend upon these resources (commercial and recreational fishing industries and coastal communities).

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries is also responsible for protecting marine mammals and endangered marine life from human impacts such as bycatch. NOAA Fisheries works with the fishing industry to monitor fishing and develop or modify fishing gear and practices to minimize bycatch and its potential impacts.

NOAA Fisheries also works under dozens of statutes, including the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, to protect and restore coastal and marine habitat to support our nation’s fisheries. Like all animals, fish need healthy habitat to survive, grow, and reproduce. Much of this work focuses on restoring sensitive coastal habitats impacted by development and pollution, affecting the productivity of fish populations.

Road Ahead

U.S. fisheries are among the largest and most sustainable in the world, and we continue to make progress ending and preventing overfishing and rebuilding stocks. Under our science-based management process, NOAA Fisheries, the councils, and other stakeholders continuously work to monitor and prevent overfishing and respond quickly to make adjustments should overfishing occur. While we’ve made much progress, ongoing collaboration among all stakeholders is necessary as we address the fishery management challenges that lie ahead, including:

  • Ensuring solid, science-based determinations of stock status and better linkages to biological, socioeconomic, and ecosystem conditions.
  • Increasing understanding of ecosystem and habitat factors, as resilient ecosystems and habitat form the foundation for robust fisheries and fishing jobs.
  • Investing in efforts to better understand the effects of climate change on fisheries, reduce bycatch, and focus habitat conservation resources where they can have the greatest impact.
  • Continuing to deal with global challenges, including international illegal fishing practices that undermine the health and abundance of our global ocean resources.