October is National Seafood Month, and the New England Aquarium is raising awareness for sustainable seafood practices.

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood is caught or farmed in ways that are environmentally friendly for both the harvested species and the health of the ocean. In 2017, American fishermen caught about 5 million tons of fish and shellfish and produced 317,000 tons of farmed seafood products. Certain guidelines and sustainable practices can be established in order to minimize the seafood industry’s environmental impact on the ocean. 

One billion people worldwide rely on seafood for their primary source of protein. The fish sector is a source of income and livelihood for millions of people. Globally, an estimated 350 million jobs are linked to the ocean through fishing, aquaculture, coastal and marine tourism, and research. For this reason, fishery management plans have been put into place to prevent major impacts that can harm the ocean, the creatures living in it, and the communities prospering from it. 

Fish at Risk

A large percentage of the world’s fish stocks are fully fished or overfished. Species that are caught at a rate that is faster than their ability to reproduce have no chance to replenish their population. This could be detrimental for a species. Other factors that put species at risk include:

High levels of fishing on a small number of target fish species:
  • The top 10 ocean-caught fish account for 24% of the world’s total catch. These species are mostly considered fully fished and some are overfished.
  • Only about 60% of major commercial fish species are fished at biologically sustainable levels, and this number has been decreasing over time.
  • One-quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction from overfishing and human consumption.
Climate change:
  • As the average sea surface temperature has risen, the amount of fish that can be caught while still maintaining sustainable populations has fallen by as much of 35% in some regions.
Illegal fishing and use of non-selective fishing gear:
  • One in five fish is caught illegally (1,800 pounds of illegal fish caught every second).
  • Up to 32% of seafood imported into the United States is caught illegally.
  • 7.3 million tons of marine life are caught unintentionally each year as bycatch.
Along with making choices from the menu that support sustainable seafood practices, individuals can also educate themselves and build awareness around the topic.

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Buy seafood from vendors with a public commitment to sustainable seafood.
  • Raise the issue at the point of sale (i.e., ask the waiter or the person at the fish counter) – let
    them know you care about sustainable seafood and ask what they are doing about it.
  • Ask questions: How is it caught or farmed? Where is it from?
  • Diversify your menu and try more farmed shellfish and seaweed.
  • Look for ecolabels, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification and the
    Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification that indicate sources that have met defined environmental targets and traceability requirements.
  • Gorton’s Seafood and the New England Aquarium have partnered for 10 years to bring sustainable seafood to consumers. Due to its close partnership with the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, Gorton’s can claim that 100% of its principal products are certified sustainable.
According to NOAA, U.S. seafood must be caught according to fishery management plans that consider social and economic outcomes for fishing communities, prevent overfishing, rebuild depleted stocks, minimize bycatch and interactions with protected species, and identify and conserve essential fish habitat. 


Seattle, USA – September 19, 2018: iconic fish vendors at the Pike Place Market – one of the oldest public farmers markets in the United States (opened 1907). It is Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions. It houses the businesses for many farmers, fishmongers, craftspeople, and merchants who operate in its covered arcades.

What Can Industries Do to Help?

  •  Advocate for healthy oceans by supporting innovative and robust science, strong fisheries
    management, and waste and bycatch reduction strategies.
  • Work toward rebuilding and properly managing fish stocks: doing so can increase fishery
    production by 16.5 metric tons and increase annual revenue by $32 billion.
  • Help to decrease bycatch by transitioning to more selective gear and adopting bycatch reduction
  • Proactively adopt better aquaculture practices to prevent pollution, disease, invasive species,
    and other environmental challenges.
The good news is that there’s plenty of hope for preserving and protecting populations of fish. These comeback stories tell us that sustainable seafood efforts can make positive impacts on fish stocks:
  • After almost 40 years of protection from harmful methods of fishing, the Hawaiian Emperor Seamount Chain is showing signs of recovery, including the regrowth of rare deep-sea corals.
  • During the 1990s, efforts to recover New England groundfish populations brought an
    unexpected benefit. Closing some areas to fishing also allowed the Atlantic sea scallop
    population to recover and rebuild, eventually becoming the most valuable wild scallop fishery in the world.
  • When fisheries managers found lingcod (blue cod) to be depleted in the Pacific Ocean, they applied science-based measures to implement a 10-year rebuilding plan. The Pacific lingcod population was rebuilt several years ahead of schedule.
  • Although the main commercial fish species in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are still overfished, pressure has reduced over the past years, raising hope for the recovery of fish stocks.