Sustainable Fisheries

Healthy Fish for a Healthy Ocean


Healthy Fish for a Healthy Ocean

Fish come in all shapes, sizes and colors, including spectacularly vibrant coral inhabitants like damselfish and clownfish, well-camouflaged flounders, and lightning-fast bluefin tuna. No matter what they look like, fish are key species in our ocean ecosystems.

Ocean ecosystems balance plants and animals, predators and prey, habitat structures and open waters. Fish play a huge role in maintaining this balance For example, California sheephead are keystone predators, meaning they help keep habitat healthy. By feeding on lobsters and grazers like urchins and gastropod mollusks, sheephead keep them from overgrazing on kelp, resulting in a balanced kelp forest. And even the smallest fish can have a big role: Anchovies are forage fish that are a crucial link in the ocean food web. They consume small plankton, and in turn provide energy to larger fish, birds and mammals.

Fish are an enormous part of our local, regional and national economies, too. Commercial and recreational fishing are a massive component of industry in coastal communities, including the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific. These fishing activities are a major part of the local economy, let alone the additional revenue from restaurants and other parts of the tourism industry.

Our country as we know it depends on fish. Whether you are a fisherman, live in a coastal town that relies on fishing or just like to eat seafood, you are part of the massive population who depends on healthy, sustainable fisheries.

Please take action today and tell Congress to ensure that this success story continues for generations to come. Without continued leadership, progress made by fishermen, scientists, managers and dedicated citizens over the past 40 years could be lost if short-term political pressures are allowed to compromise long-term success.

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The Problem

A Threat to the American Way of Life


“All my life, I’ve measured the ‘good life’ with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life.”

Dennis McKay
Recreational Fisherman

From the smallest herring to the largest tuna, fish nourish our ecosystem, feed our bodies, drive our economy and support our culture. Millions of people rely on seafood for protein and many depend on seafood to earn their living. More than 1.7 million jobs in the United States rely on commercial and recreational fisheries, contributing $199 billion annually.

The ocean used to be viewed as an inexhaustible resource. For generations, massive numbers of fish where hauled in with little or no thought of the long-term consequences of unregulated catches. Ultimately, the ocean’s supply couldn’t keep up with our growing demands.

Fish Town, USA

From once plentiful cod and key species of rockfish to majestic sharks, species declined dramatically because we took too many fish out of the water and left too few behind to reproduce. By the 1990s, many fisheries had collapsed or were on the brink. Our country faced a massive dilemma: change our behavior, or continue on the same path and face unprecedented consequences. Thankfully, NGOs, fishermen, policymakers and scientists stepped up to develop the fisheries management practices we have today.

It’s hard to imagine an ocean—and our country—without fish. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re working tirelessly to make sure you never have to.


“In this day and age, the technologies available to commercial and recreational fishermen are so advanced that it is possible to rapidly deplete our fish stocks. We saw this happen in the 1980s and 1990s, and it can happen again, if we don’t maintain strong fishing rules.”

Jeff Watters
Director, Government Relations

The Solution

Protecting Vulnerable Fish and the Legacy of Fishermen

Ocean Conservancy has worked for more than 20 years to support sustainable U.S. fisheries. It’s in everyone’s best interest—distributors, retailers, fishermen and consumers—to restore the ocean’s bounty and strengthen our coastal economies. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re working closely with stakeholders to develop sustainable fishing plans that will preserve the industry, and the ecosystem, for generations to come. Check out some of our priorities below.

Leading the world in fisheries management.

Over the past four decades, we’ve made real progress toward ending overfishing in U.S. waters and rebuilding fish populations. And we have a little-known law with a long name to thank: the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).


Since 2007, the percentage of fish populations that are facing overfishing, or that are already overfished, has decreased—even as catches are increasing. In 2015 alone, red snapper quotas were raised by more than 20 percent because the population is rebuilding, thanks to science-based management, better incentives for conservation and accountability for performance.

This points to positive recovery for our nation’s fisheries. It’s clear that sound science and long term management is working for America’s fish stocks as well as our economy.

Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re committed to defending the integrity of the MSA so we can have healthy fish populations for generations to come.

JP Brooker

“People in my family have fished in Gulf and Atlantic waters from the Florida Keys all the way up to North Carolina and Virginia for generations. It’s in our blood. I love the MSA because it helps to preserve the unique fishing heritage of coastal communities and fishing families across the country by ensuring continued access to fish.”

J.P. Brooker
Policy Counsel for the Fish Conservation Program

Considering the bigger picture

Sustainable fisheries require more than just counting the number of fish in the sea. We also need to look at the environment they live in. By incorporating factors like fishes’ habitat and number of prey fish available, we can better understand how many fish we can sustainably take out of the ocean. This is called ecosystem-based fisheries management. If used correctly, ecosystem-based management can result in healthier and more resilient fisheries because we consider multiple species at the same time. It’s a great way to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to fisheries management!

To keep up with changing ocean conditions, we must always be looking ahead.

Ocean Conservancy is on the forefront of emerging fisheries solutions to keep pace with the unprecedented changes that are occurring in our oceans. Fisheries management has long since been approached by monitoring catches and the abundance of fish populations. With the revolution in information and computing power, we’re able to apply sophisticated tools that help provide a much clearer view of how the fishermen’s responses to things like ocean conditions and market forces impact the sustainability of fish populations. Our modeling project aims to identify simpler, more nimble and the most effective approaches to fisheries management, and bring together multiple international organizations, all working to create sustainably managed fisheries worldwide.

Want to join the fight for sustainable fisheries? Speak up with your wallet: Choose to only purchase seafood that is sustainably caught. Take a minute to research good options in your region, and when possible, buy from local fishermen!

Please take action today and tell Congress to ensure that this success story continues for generations to come. Without continued leadership, progress made by fishermen, scientists, managers and dedicated citizens over the past 40 years could be lost if short-term political pressures are allowed to compromise long-term success.

Take Action

Want to do even more to help? Donate now to support sustainable fisheries and consider making a monthly donation to help our ongoing work to defend the MSA and advocate for smart, science-based fisheries management. We can’t achieve our goal of healthy fish populations for future generations without your commitment.

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