U.S. Commercial Fishing Growing, Thanks to Science, Conservation and a Taste for Salmon

December 14, 2018, 11:44 AM UTC
Stacked crab pots
Commercial fishing generated more than $144 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2016, contributing $61 billion to GDP
John Greim—LightRocket via Getty Images

Two new reports on fishing in the U.S. show that Americans are catching, importing and eating more seafood.

Commercial fishing generated more than $144 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2016, contributing $61 billion to GDP, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Economics of the United States report for 2016. It shows the industry supported 1.2 million jobs, slightly down from 2014 but steady from 2015.

According to NOAA’s separate Fisheries of the United States 2017 report, U.S. commercial fishermen caught 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2017, an increase of 3.6% from the previous year. The value of the catches increased by 2.1% to $5.4 billion.

The most valuable commercial fishing port in the U.S. continues to be New Bedford, Mass., where the catch was worth $389 million in 2017. That total was heavily dependent on scallops, the city’s signature export, AP reports. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, pulled in the most seafood overall. It is a major port for Alaska pollock, commonly used in fish sticks.

The United States’ most valuable catches in 2017 were:

  • salmon ($688 million)
  • crabs ($610 million)
  • lobster ($594 million)
  • shrimp ($531 million)
  • scallops ($512 million)
  • Alaskan pollock ($413 million)

It’s a major turnaround from 2016, when lobster led the pack with $723 million and salmon came in fifth at $420 million, according to Undercurrents News. U.S. per capita consumption of fish and shellfish grew to 16 pounds in 2017 from 14.9 pounds in 2016. That’s still lower than 2005’s average of 16.6 pounds per person, however. NOAA also notes that 79% of the seafood caught in the U.S. in 2017 was used for fresh or frozen food for humans, while 14% was converted into food for animals.

Matt Tinning of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement that the reports show the U.S. is steadily rebuilding once depleted fisheries and reducing overfishing while simultaneously adding jobs, increasing landings and boosting revenues in the fishing sector. “The comeback of U.S. fisheries is one of the great conservation success stories of our time,” he said. “When sound science is coupled with market incentives, people and nature can prosper together.”