Overfishing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding U.S. Fishery Management

NOTE: This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, Director of Federal Fisheries Policy at Pew Environment Group

The United States has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, containing 3.4 million square miles of ocean and 90,000 miles of coastline. Throughout this vast underwater realm, fish play an essential role in the interconnected web of life on which we depend. In fact, they are one of America’s most valuable natural resources, adding billions to the U.S. economy and supporting millions of jobs through fishing and recreation.

Unfortunately, overfishing — taking fish from our oceans faster than they can reproduce — has plagued U.S. oceans for decades and continues today. This squanders valuable fish populations and weakens ocean ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to problems like pollution, natural disturbances and climate change.

The good news is that we have a strong law in place in the United States governing how fish are managed in federal waters, and serious efforts are underway to end overfishing and rebuild depleted populations. The Pew Environment Group supports these goals through our work at the federal and regional levels of government, where decisions are made about these invaluable marine resources.

Fishermen, conservationists and scientists have actively debated how best to manage our ocean fish populations for decades. But with so much at stake, it’s critical that as many Americans as possible be actively engaged in this discussion. The “Overfishing 101″ blog series aims to do just that by providing a new outlet, in which we hope to open up the discussion to the larger public, cut through the rhetoric and encourage more people to participate in marine fish conservation.

In coming posts, I will cover the basic state of our nation’s ocean fish populations, explore policies that can help safeguard them for future generations and dispel some myths about how current U.S. fisheries policy is made. In addition, the series will feature insights from independent experts and partners working with Pew, as well as interactive web content, such as videos and other online resources related to ocean fish and fishing.

More about us

The Federal Fisheries Policy Project leads efforts to ensure that Congress and the National Marine Fisheries Service effectively implement the law to end overfishing, rebuild depleted fish populations and protect ocean ecosystems.

The campaign works closely with scientists, policy makers, fishery managers, fishermen and conservation organizations throughout the country to promote adequate funding and support current fish conservation mandates.

To find out how you can help, please visit www.pewenvironment.org.


Photo Courtesy of Pew Environment Group

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Dan B.
Dan Brook4 years ago

Any fishing is overfishing!



V Pena
V Pena4 years ago

This article is too general, very subjective and slanted to the beliefs of the writer. What he neglects to say is that the US has the most highly regulated fisheries in the world.

Oregon is highly regulated and has a created several sustainable fisheries recognized by Enviromental groups. Another factor not mentioned in this article is that the weather on the ocean is the main regulator in the cold water fisheries in the Northwest states. Harsh ocean conditions keep fishermen off the ocean almost 2/3rds of the year.

Warm water fisheries in foreign countries are the most over fished due to little or no regulations.

Foreign countries are allowed pay for permits in Federal waters sending fish to foreign countries,keeping US fisherman off the ocean.With fleets of ships including a mother ship to process the fish,they are the biggest abusers of over fishing! That should be stopped! Our commercial fishermen follow the rules, fishing with conservation in mind as they don't want to destroy their living. Foreign fishermen don't care because they will just go someplace else.
Our government is responsible for permiting for farming fish on the ocean. That is something the public should be aware of and stop! Not only do they take away the jobs of US fishermen but they endanger the ocean.
Buy only "wild caught fish" to eat! Not ocean farmed fished.

Bill K.
Bill K.4 years ago

it's simple really, just don't eat fish

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p.4 years ago

thanks for the article, just glad i don`t eat animals.

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

oh yeah. I agree on the "big box franchines" resturants aren't helping much.
maybe "family owned diner resturant" could get away with it, but not a brand name

it's not so much "to many people" it's also "to many want"

fish is a guilty pleasure

Elsie Au
Elsie Au4 years ago

Thanks. Agree with many here that we just cut down on our demand and they will recover.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.4 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Deborah W.
Deborah w.4 years ago

Yes, I agree with everyone. I think people should boycott restaurants that serve blue fin tuna for example and/or tell them to take it off the menu.

I will not order it ever and certainly won't pay the exaggerated prices for it. People are stupid if they keep eating endangered species. Think people!!

Stop eating it and let them recover.

Jane R.
Jane R.4 years ago


Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

The salmon fishery in Alaska, was very well run, which is why the supplies are stable today.
There is constant pressure though. Tourists dollars spent to catch the "biggest", the King salmon, have the boats with 'guides' from all over the US, running up and down the rivers in which these fish must spawn, and the garbage, diesel fuel, along with many other pollutants, makes one wonder how long this bounty will last.
Now the threat of coal mining (OMG) and the Pebble Mine (OMG, again) is sounding the death-knell for the purity of the water, and the accessibility of the fish to the spawning beds.

All this is by way of saying the fisheries can be managed, and the fish stocks can make a comeback, but ONLY if we respect the sea they live in.