Overfishing 101: Why Ending Overfishing Pays Off in the Long Run

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

This post is the fifth in a series, “Overfishing 101.” The entire series can be viewed here.

America’s ocean fish are an incredibly valuable resource. According to the most recent economic data from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), recreational and commercial fishing added $163 billion to the U.S. economy and supported almost two million jobs in 2008. In a typical year, Americans consume nearly 16 pounds of seafood per person.

In 2009, we spent $75.5 billion on fish at restaurants and grocery stores, and in pet food, fertilizer and other related products. If our wild fish populations are conserved and rebuilt to healthy levels, they will become an even more valuable renewable resource. On the other hand, if we take too many of them now, we will face lower productivity in coming years.

That’s why it’s so important to maintain the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) just when we’re starting to make some progress against overfishing.

Partial Victory or Partial Loss?

Some in the recreational sector reason that if NMFS reports 80 percent of our nation’s fisheries are healthy or on a positive trajectory, there’s no need to worry about overfishing. The reality is, however, that nearly one-fifth of commercially and recreationally important fish are being taken at unsustainable levels, including popular species such as cod, yellowtail flounder, red snapper and various grouper. 

Some varieties, like South Atlantic red snapper, are below 15 percent of their original numbers, which were established in the 1970s. Additionally, because more than half of federally managed ocean fish have never been scientifically assessed, we don’t really know the full extent of the problem.

More importantly, there’s strong evidence that reforms to the MSA enacted in 2007 are working. Indeed, because of the requirements currently in U.S. law, NMFS reports that 21 depleted fish populations have been rebuilt to healthy levels since 2000.

An investment that will pay dividends for decades

Therefore, while establishing and enforcing polices that end overfishing and rebuild depleted populations may require sustained commitment in the short-term, the fishing industry and recreational anglers will reap the benefits of this recovery process long into the future. For example, after decades of overfishing, summer flounder (also known as fluke), one of the most important commercial and recreational fish species in the Mid-Atlantic, has recovered to 89 percent of healthy levels. And scientists are now optimistic that the population will be fully rebuilt before the 2013 congressional deadline. This could yield tremendous future economic benefits. A healthy summer flounder population could add $28.9 million per year in direct economic benefits to the Mid-Atlantic region.

Bottom line: If we postpone efforts to end overfishing, populations will become more depleted, we will risk even greater damage to them and the fishermen who depend on them, and we increase the difficulty and cost of recovery.

Take Action: Sign the petition to protect fish populations and keep oceans healthy.

Previous Overfishing 101 Posts:

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

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fishing Populations Are Managed in the U.S.

Overfishing 101: How Ocean Fish Populations Are Managed in the U.S. (Part 2)

Overfishing 101: The Importance of Rebuilding Our Fish Populations Without Delay

By Lee Crockett

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Fiona T.
Fi T.2 years ago

It's for the future

Laurie Greenberg
Laurie Greenberg4 years ago

It just makes sense to let the fish populations recover by stopping overfishing. It's not a real revelation- just common sense.

Janine Hofmann
Janine H.4 years ago

When i see how cruel "we" are to animals, it makes me sick. The people have lost respect to animals. Did it end in the time of 2. World War? That people ate flesh not often, not only because they were poor, but also because they had respect to animals? And today, they eat it as if it has not to get food, raised - and killed. As if a steak has always been a steak, as an apple is an apple...

Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
(Native American proverb)

Manuela C.
Manuela C.4 years ago

Already signed and doing my part (not eating fish)!

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda4 years ago

Signed. People going Vegan would help the fish to recover!

Zee Kallah
.4 years ago

The fish aren't biting
there are no more fish.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams4 years ago


Bernadette P.
Berny p.4 years ago

Thanks for a good article

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

Sustainability is the key to a future!

Karan P.
Karan Pandit4 years ago

the miserable human race is responsible for all the problems in the world.i wish that there would some predator who can make the human race extinct from this world.i heard the idiot Chinese are trying to revive the Dinosaurs, dat wud the wisest thing the chinese r doing! once the dinosaurs go out of control they will eat the chinese then rest of the world population. then the world will be a beautiful place.