Sustainable Fisheries

Healthy Fish for a Healthy Ocean


Healthy Fish for a Healthy Ocean

Fish are some of our most familiar ocean residents. From tiny anchovy to the largest sharks, a damselfish on a tropical coral reef to icefish living in the freezing waters off of Antarctica, fish can be found in almost every corner of the ocean. Fish never fail to inspire us with the incredible ways they carry out their underwater lives.

Fish are key players in ocean ecosystems, and they are also important for people and economies around the world. Fisheries put seafood on the table for billions of people and offer jobs and livelihoods for millions. Many people fish for fun and as a way to connect with the ocean, and subsistence fishing is a key component of food security and culture. Fishing traditions stretch back to time immemorial, and fishing is deeply interwoven into culture and history.

In short, much of the world depends on fish. Whether we fish, live in a coastal town or just like to eat seafood, we all depend on healthy, sustainable fisheries.

Please take action today and tell Congress to fully fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA manages America’s fisheries and keeps our ocean and coastal habitats healthy.

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The Problem

Sustaining Natural Resources in a Complex and Changing World

Fish support our ecosystems, feed our bodies, drive our economy and support our cultures. In the United States alone, more than 1.7 million jobs rely on commercial and recreational fisheries, and fishing generates over $200 billion in sales each year. Despite the importance of fish and fishing to people and economies, fisheries remain a challenge to manage sustainably around the world.


“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
There are several problems we face: how do we address historic overfishing and rebuild healthy fish populations, how do we find the sustainable levels of fishing that work for fishermen today, and how do we adapt to changes in the ocean that are creating new challenges now and for the future?

We are living with the legacy of a time when the ocean was viewed as inexhaustible, fish were caught faster than their populations could replenish them, and fisheries collapsed. As a result, many fish populations still remain a fraction of a healthy size. In many places, we’ve come a long way from that legacy by managing our fisheries better. We know the basics of what makes a system of management effective for achieving sustainable fishing. Yet, worldwide, many fisheries remain in a dire position, and the best tools and methods aren’t in place because of their cost and complexity. Further, even the best fishery management systems must be continually adapted and improved.

And what will the future hold for fisheries? Management must be responsive and adaptable to be successful. With climate change, fish are already shifting to cooler waters that are deeper and toward the poles. Ocean acidification will influence fish in ways that are not fully understood. Pollution and habitat destruction affect fish survival and reproduction.


“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
Senior Director, Conservation Policy and Engagement

The Solution

Science-Based Solutions for Fish and Fishermen

For over 25 years, Ocean Conservancy has worked to find practical solutions to the challenging problems facing our fisheries. Our vision is this—healthy fish populations and resilient ocean ecosystems that support people through thriving fishing businesses, provide ample fishing opportunities and deliver nutritious protein to the dinner plates of families throughout America and around the world for generations to come.

We are dedicated to working with our partners to achieve this vision. We do this by jumping to the heart of where management happens. At Ocean Conservancy, we are on Capitol Hill, at the Regional Fishery Management Councils across the United States, and with decision-makers in places like Jakarta, Indonesia.  But from snapper in the Gulf of Mexico to the tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, our principles are the same:

  • Healthy fisheries mean more than just big populations of fish — they mean food security, opportunity, recreation and culture for coastal and Indigenous communities around the world. They also mean functioning ecosystems that benefit everyone. The economic reach of fishing is vast and supports businesses that include commercial fishermen, charter boats, boat and ship manufacturers, tackle manufacturers, and tourism-related operations.
  • Science-based fishery management leads to better outcomes for fish, fishing communities, and ocean ecosystems. So we work to make sure the best science and data is at the table when policy and management decisions are made, and work with partners to develop and implement innovative tools to fill gaps in our understanding of fisheries.
  • Collaboration is the key that makes solutions stick. We work with scientists, managers, fishermen and others. We believe that fishermen—who are the ones affected by changes on the water and are seeing impacts to fish populations firsthand—are part of the solution.
  • Smart management means considering the big picture and thinking ahead. We support management that takes the broader ecosystem into account. We are on the forefront of emerging fisheries solutions to keep pace with the unprecedented changes that are occurring in our oceans.

Check out some of our priorities below.

Maintaining U.S. leadership in fishery management.

Over the past four decades, we’ve made real progress toward ending overfishing in U.S. waters and rebuilding fish populations. These achievements are thanks both to a visionary law that establishes long-term fishery management as a primary goal and to the hard work and sacrifice of fishermen and managers across our coasts. Ocean Conservancy works to defend and build upon these successes to ensure healthy, abundant fisheries for future generations of fishermen and seafood lovers.

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
Director, Florida Conservation

Driving innovative management by Pacific fisheries.

Many fisheries along the U.S. West Coast have made a turnaround in the last few decades. The challenge now is how to build upon success and develop innovative new strategies for management. Our Pacific work focuses on maintaining healthy fisheries under changing ocean conditions by including the ecosystem more in our management system. We work across the U.S. West Coast with an added focus on the state fisheries of California.

Supporting thriving fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Gulf is home to many fish species and has long-standing commercial and recreational fisheries that are an important part of the regional economy and culture. In the Gulf, we work to ensure science-based management of these fisheries, support the improvement of data collection systems, and work with fishermen and managers to find solutions that result in sustainable fishing opportunities.

Harnessing machine learning to empower fishery managers worldwide with POSEIDON.

Traditional fishery models have gone a long way in helping us to understand the status of fish populations and set sustainable fishing limits. But traditional models don’t necessarily work well in fisheries with multiple species, diverse fishing fleets, changing ocean conditions, or limited fishery data—precisely those fisheries where management is needed most. Managers in these places need tools that allow them to find locally tailored solutions for sustainable fishery management without costly real-world trial and error.

Using advanced simulation and machine learning techniques, we’ve developed a powerful fisheries policy simulator—POSEIDON—that works well where traditional methods fall short. POSEIDON explores the interactions among fishermen, ocean ecosystems, markets, and management policies so we can better understand trade-offs and identify new management approaches. We developed POSEIDON with the help of leading universities and are implementing it with the help of on-the-ground partners who are committed to advancing sustainable fisheries worldwide.

Please take action today and tell Congress to fully fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA manages America’s fisheries and keeps our ocean and coastal habitats healthy.

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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