This industry classification includes establishments primarily engaged in the commercial catching or taking of finfish, including cod, menhaden, pollack, salmon, and tuna.
The United States has three major shorelines, situated along the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean. Together these shores, including those of Alaska and Hawaii, span more than 12,000 miles. As do many other nations, the United States holds economic jurisdiction over waters out to a distance of 200 nautical miles. This area is called the nation's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The U.S. EEZ contains more than 2.2 million square miles. These waters are estimated to contain about 20 percent of the world's harvestable seafood.
In 2001 the U.S. commercial fishing industry landed 8.2 billion pounds of finfish, up from 7.6 billion pounds in 2000. The finfish landed in 2001 represented 87 percent of all edible and industrial fish products landed and about 46 percent of the value. Finfish made up 84 percent (6.1 billion pounds) of all edible fishery products landed and more than 96 percent (2.1 billion pounds) of all industrial fishery products landed.
Annual per capita consumption of fishery products rose from 12.7 pounds in 1981 to a high of 16.2 pounds in 1987. From 1987 to 2001, consumption fell and stabilized at approximately 15.0 pounds per person per year. Although the National Fisheries Institute set a goal of increasing annual per capita consumption to 20.0 pounds by the year 2000, the actual per capita consumption that year stood at 15.2 pounds. In 2001 per capita consumption of fish and seafood dropped to 14.8 pounds, down slightly from the previous year. Per capita consumption of fresh and frozen products, however, was 10.3 pounds, up 0.1 pound over 2000. Finfish, fresh and frozen, made up 5.7 of the 14.9 total pounds, with tuna leading the group at 2.9 pounds per capita consumption. The fresh and frozen finfish category includes approximately 1.1 pounds of farm-raised catfish.
Total export value of edible and nonedible fishery products was $11.8 billion in 2001, up $1.1 billion from the previous year, whereas import values, at $18.5 billion in 2001, decreased $466.3 million over the same period.
Historically, independent fishermen caught fish and sold them to local packers or processors who resold them to retail markets. Although the U.S. fishing fleet still contains independent fishermen, large corporations are becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of seafood distribution.
The U.S. fisheries industry is managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is responsible for regulating commercial fishing, finding ways to control overfishing of exploited species, collecting data, and publishing reports about commercial landings. The fishing industry, however, remains a lightly regulated one. Critics of the NMFS have at times accused the agency of concentrating efforts on helping fishermen maximize profits at the expense of protecting fish populations.
The NMFS, however, has instituted a number of measures designed to protect the fish population. One way in which the NMFS has regulated fishing is through the use of limited seasons for selected species. Because of intense pressure on selected populations, some seasons are short. Pacific halibut, for example, was once fished during a six-month season. By 1991 the season was limited to two 24-hour periods. In September 1991 approximately 6,000 boats landed 23.7 million pounds of halibut in one day.
The NMFS has also tested the use of quotas and limited entry into established fisheries as a means of regulating stressed fish populations. Such programs have included a moratorium on new entrants into the fishery, quotas based on catch histories of the vessel or fisherman, quotas based on a percentage of the total allowable catch, quotas on specific poundage, quotas based on vessel size or gear, and quotas that can be purchased or traded.
Commercial fishing is one of America's oldest industries. The bountiful waters off the continent's East Coast attracted fishermen from Scandinavian countries possibly as early as 1,000 years ago. The ocean also provided employment for many European settlers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Technological innovations and the institution of regulatory agencies during the 1800s prepared the industry for the modern era.
The techniques of netting, harpooning, and pole-and-line fishing used by early fishermen were eventually replaced by more efficient methods of catching fish. Trawling—pulling a funnel-shaped bag to scoop fish from the ocean floor—was introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century. Purse seines, nets that trap fish by closing in a manner similar to a drawstring purse, were introduced early in the twentieth century. Together, purse seines and trawlers catch more fish worldwide than...