Global Fishing Index

United States of America

The United States of America has made some progress to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels and has a developed fisheries governance system with the capacity to ensure sustainable fishing, where it is applied. Additional work is needed to expand management coverage and rebuild overfished stocks.

The United States of America (US) is the fourth largest producer of wild-caught fisheries in the world.1 The US’s exclusive economic zone is also one of the largest, covering diverse ecosystems from the Arctic to tropical reefs. Combined, the commercial and recreational fishing industries are estimated to produce US$244 billion and support 1.74 million jobs in the US in 2017.2

The US has made some progress to achieve sustainability in key fisheries and has a developed system of fisheries governance: it is one of only six countries in the Index to achieve a ‘C’ grade. However, 39 per cent of assessed stocks are considered to be overfished. While the US has a very high number of stocks assessed (over 170), a considerable proportion of the total catch in US national waters comes from stocks that lack recent official assessments or publicly available data to estimate stock abundance. The US must work to intensify and expand management across all fisheries to further advance towards SDG target 14.4.

Recommendations

Expand the use of science-based management across all fisheries, starting with information collection and analysis in data poor stocks.
Review the management measures in place for overfished stocks and take corrective action, where needed.
Ratify and implement the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) and the 2012 IMO Cape Town Agreement to protect worker rights and safety in fisheries.
Expand the use of spatial management to protect small-scale fisheries and ensure equitable access to fisheries resources.
Eliminate all harmful subsidies and redirect investment into fisheries management.

Progress towards SDG target 14.4

While the US performs in the top 10 countries globally for progress towards SDG target 14.4, it is still far from achieving sustainability in all fisheries in its waters.

The US excels in terms of the number of stocks assessed – with more than half of the 179 included stocks evaluated using a recent, official stock assessment from national authorities. Together, these 179 stocks account for 73 per cent of the total reconstructed catch in US national waters since 1990; however, the status of the remaining 27 per cent is unknown.

Sixty-one per cent assessed fish stocks in the US are at or above 40 per cent of their unfished levels of abundance – our definition of sustainable. These stocks account for approximately 63 per cent of the total catch in US national waters since 1990. Additionally, there is a high level of sustainability within the US’s largest stocks: of the 20 largest fish stock (by catch volume), 17 are considered sustainable. This includes the three stocks of their largest commercial fishery (Alaskan Pollock, Theragra chalcogramma), all of which are sustainable.

Nearly all catch from US national waters comes from fish stocks that occur exclusively within national waters or are shared with neighbouring countries. While 40 stocks are managed by regional fisheries organisations, these stocks account for a small proportion (one per cent) of the country’s total catch.

Fisheries governance

The US is performs in the top fifth of countries globally for its governance capacity and has a developed fisheries governance system that, where implemented, promotes sustainable fishing. However, clear gaps remain in terms of signing international agreements for fisheries management and worker rights and safety, as well as the use of spatial management to control fishing access.

The US has a strong national policy foundation – the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act – which underpins fisheries governance in its waters. However, the US is yet to ratify a range of major international agreements for fisheries management and worker rights and safety in fisheries – including the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 2007 ILO Work in Fishing Convention (No. 188) and the 2012 IMO Cape Town Agreement. Nonetheless, we note that the US’ fisheries policy reflects aspects of many of these international agreements. For example, the US complies with many of the provisions of UNCLOS, including its strict conservation requirements – but as a non-party to the agreement, it cannot participate in official resolution processes regarding international fishing rights or maritime disputes.3 This weakens the power of the US when it negotiates control over the use of Arctic waters or high seas resources, and participates in conflict resolution in the South China Sea territorial dispute.

The US has adopted science-based fisheries management, the cornerstone for ensuring sustainable fisheries, in many high importance fisheries. High-quality information on fishing fleets and activities is widely available – for example, independently verified catch and effort data, and science-based catch and/or effort limits have been established in most, but not all, fisheries. Critically, management decisions in key fisheries are evidence-based and made using harvest control rules – pre-determined rules that guide management action, based on the state of fisheries resources. The US also has a comprehensive compliance and enforcement program that includes in-port and on-the-water inspections and strong sanctions for rule breakers. Relative to the rest of Europe and North America, the US excels at ensuring the meaningful participation of stakeholders in decision-making – further strengthening trust in, and the perceived legitimacy of, management processes.

The US provides many types of different fisheries subsides worth an estimated US$3.3 billion in 2018. Positively, the US provides approximately two-thirds of this funding to support fisheries management and conservation activities. However, it is estimated that approximately one-third of subsidies are provided to potentially harmful programs which enhance fishing capacity or reduce fishing costs – estimated at nearly US$1.1 billion in 2018.

Compared to the rest of Europe and North America, the US underperforms in terms of access restrictions. This is primarily due to the high levels of foreign access provided: the US allows for foreign fishing in national waters via bilateral- and/or multi-lateral agreements. The Canada-United States Albacore Treaty, for example, allows Canadian vessels to fish for tuna in the United States.4 However, the US’s strong science-based management, extensive licencing requirements, and robust compliance management system reduce the risk of unsustainable or illegal fishing by these foreign-flagged vessels.

Spatial management can also be strengthened to improve equitable access to fisheries resources. In the US, there is no specific coastal zone that bars large-scale commercial vessels while permitting fishing by small-scale vessels. Spatial management is critical to protecting key habitats and ecosystems, while reducing conflict between fishing sectors.

Key metrics

Metric Value
Progress score 45.0 out of 100
Total reconstructed catch in 2018 6.3 million tonnes
Total reconstructed catch (1990 to 2018) 183.8 million tonnes
Sustainable stocks 61%
Overfished stocks 39%
Catch from sustainable stocks (1990 to 2018) 63%
Catch from overfished stocks (1990 to 2018) 10%
Catch from unassessed stocks (1990 to 2018) 27%
Governance capacity High: Level 8 of 12

Methods and data sources

We consider United States Minor Outlying Islands of Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island as part of the US for the Global Fishing Index assessment. The US is also considered part of the European and North American region for comparative purposes. Refer to the Technical Methods for a detailed explanation of the methods used by the Minderoo Foundation to produce the 2021 Global Fishing Index. The Technical Methods should be read in conjunction with the Global Fishing Index Key Insights report, Governance Conceptual Framework and Indicator Codebook.

The US Progress score was informed by 179 assessed fish stocks. One hundred and twenty-two stocks had recent published official stock assessments, including 28 assessments from regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The remaining 57 stocks were assessed using publicly available data and established data limited methods, CMSY++ or the Bayesian Schaefer Model.56 Catch and stock sustainability estimates were reviewed by one local fisheries expert prior to finalisation.

The US Governance assessment was informed by 13 questionnaire respondents, three interviews with local experts and the publicly available literature. Consulted references are listed in the Bibliography below. Our assessment measures country-level fisheries governance, with eight indicators referring specifically to a country’s most valuable fishery, as identified by assessment respondents. The most valuable fishery identified for the US was the Pacific salmon, Oncorhynchus spp.

Governance bibliography

The following sources informed the United States’ of America’s governance assessment:

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (2015). American Lobster Benchmark Stock Assessment and Peer Review Report, Vision: Sustainably Managing Atlantic Coastal Fisheries, Woods Hole, MA, pp. 1-493. http://www.asmfc.org/uploads/file/55d61d73AmLobsterStockAssmt_PeerReviewReport_Aug2015_red2.pdf [1 May 2020]

Bidwell, D. (2015). National Centers for Environmental Prediction Strategic Plan 2015-2019, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pp. 1-12. https://www.ncep.noaa.gov/director/strategic_plan/strategic_plan.pdf [1 May 2020]

Boat U.S. Foundation (2020). Registration Requirements. http://www.boatus.org/study-guide/boat/registration/ [28 Januaury 2020]

Charles, A.T. (1991). Small-scale fisheries in North America: research perspectives, Political Science, pp. 1-28. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b182/69f16d12a66eb2b39744b2bed066a5121e70.pdf [1 May 2020]

Department of Commerce NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (2007). Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/magnuson-stevens-fishery-conservation-and-management-act [1 May 2020]

Harrington, G. (2012). Fishery Management Plan for the Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off Alaska, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Anchorage, AK 99501-2252, p. 186. https://www.npfmc.org/wp-content/PDFdocuments/fmp/Salmon/SalmonFMP114.pdf [1 May 2020]

Kemerer, J.A. (2010). Commercial Fishing Vessel Count by State/Jurisdiction and Federally-Documented by the U.S. Coast Guard, State Jurisdiction, pp. 1-2. https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/2010_Fishing_Vessel_Safety_FRM-7-USCG-2008-CFVs-Count-vt-State-and-Documentation-Type.pdf [1 May 2020]

McMullin, L.D. (1962). List of Fishery Cooperatives in the United States 1961-62, United States Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, Washington 25 D. C, pp. 1-19. https://spo.nmfs.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/legacy-pdfs/leaflet545.pdf [1 May 2020]

National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Science and Technology (2017). Fisheries of the United States, 2017 Report. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/fisheries-united-states-2017-report [1 May 2020]

National Ocean Council Committee (n.d.). IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. https://www.iuufishing.noaa.gov/About/IUUFishingandSeafoodFraud.aspx [1 May 2020]

National Ocean Service (2018). What is the EEZ? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eez.html [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2016). Fisheries Economics of the United States. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/content/fisheries-economics-united-states-2016 [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2017). Status of Stocks 2017: Annual Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pp. 1-7. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/2017-report-congress-status-us-fisheries [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2017). Office of Law Enforcement Annual Report Fiscal Year 2017. https://repository.library.noaa.gov/view/noaa/18375 [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). Permits. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permits-and-forms [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). Office of Law Enforcement. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/about/office-law-enforcement [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). NOAA Fisheries Priorities and Annual Guidance for 2018. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/noaa-fisheries-priorities-and-annual-guidance-2018 [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). 2018 Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/2018-report-congress-status-us-fisheries [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). Fish Assessment Report FY 2018 Quarter 2 Update, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland. https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/Assets/stock/documents/Quarter%202%20Report%20(January%20-%20March,%202018).pdf [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2018). Fisheries of the United States, 2017, Fisheries Statistics Division, National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD, pp. 1-169. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/fisheries-united-states-2017-report [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Understanding Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/understanding-illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-fishing [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). NOAA Fisheries Releases New Strategic Plan. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/noaa-fisheries-releases-new-strategic-plan [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Status of U.S. Fisheries. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/population-assessments/status-us-fisheries [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Sovereign Relations on the West Coast. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/west-coast/partners/sovereign-relations-west-coast [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Commercial Fisheries Landings. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/sustainable-fisheries/commercial-fisheries-landings [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Understanding Fisheries Management in the United States. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/insight/understanding-fisheries-management-united-states [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Identification of IUU Fishing Activities. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/foreign/international-affairs/identification-iuu-fishing-activities [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Enforcement. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/enforcement#overview [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Updated Stock Assessment Improvement Plan Builds on Past Success. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/updated-stock-assessment-improvement-plan-builds-past-success [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). NOAA Fisheries, About Us- Organizational Chart. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/about-us#who-we-are [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Fisheries of the United States. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/sustainable-fisheries/fisheries-united-states [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Alaska Pollock. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/alaska-pollock [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/international-affairs/illegal-unreported-and-unregulated-fishing [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). 2018 Status of U.S. Fisheries Report. https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/dam-migration/2018_status_of_stocks_rtc_final_508.pdf [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). NOAA Fisheries Strategic Plan 2019-2022, NOAA Fisheries, Silver Spring, MD 20910, pp. 1-16. https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/dam-migration/noaa_strategicplan_2019_singlesv5.pdf [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2019). Policy for the Assessment of Civil Administrative Penalties and Permit Sanctions. https://www.gc.noaa.gov/documents/Penalty-Policy-CLEAN-June242019.pdf [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2020). Science Advisory Board (SAB) Meetings. https://sab.noaa.gov/SABMeetings.aspx [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2020). Fish Stock Assessment Report. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/population-assessments/fish-stock-assessment-report [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2020). NOAA 2020 Budget Summary. https://www.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/FY2020-BlueBook.pdf [1 May 2020]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (n.d.). National Standard Guidelines. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/laws-and-policies/national-standard-guidelines [1 May 2020]

Office of Marine Conservation (2020). International Fisheries Management. https://www.state.gov/key-topics-office-of-marine-conservation/international-fisheries-management/ [1 May 2020]

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2020). ODA by sector. https://data.oecd.org/oda/oda-by-sector.htm#indicator-chart [1 May 2020]

Pacific Salmon Commission (2016). Pacific Salmon Commission. https://www.psc.org/about-us/ [1 May 2020]

Rutkowski, L., Dine, J. and Paulsen, B.G. (2018). Ship registration in the USA. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=66f145ce-5185-467d-be22-edebfe43dc06 [1 May 2020]

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2021). United States – Canada Albacore Treaty. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/west-coast/sustainable-fisheries/united-states-canada-albacore-treaty [28 January 2020]

United States Coast Guard (2019). National Vessel Documentation Center Table of Fees (NVDCINST 16713/1-2). https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/DCO%20Documents/NVDC/Fee_Schedule.pdf [8 May 2020]

United States Coast Guard (2020). National Vessel Documentation Center. https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Deputy-for-Operations-Policy-and-Capabilities-DCO-D/National-Vessel-Documentation-Center/ [28 January 2020]

US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (2019). Domestic Shipping. https://maritime.dot.gov/ports/domestic-shipping/domestic-shipping [1 May 2020]

Zeller, D., Booth, S. and Pauly, D. (2005). Reconstruction of coral reef- and bottom fisheries catches for U.S. flag island areas in the Western Pacific, 1950 to 2002, Aquatic Ecosystem Research Laboratory, Vancouver, BC, pp. 1-119. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/legacy.seaaroundus/doc/Researcher+Publications/dpauly/PDF/2005/Books%26Chapters/ReconstructionCoralReefBottomFisheries.pdf [10 January 2020]

Endnotes

1Based on estimated reconstructed catch within each country’s national waters between 2014 – 2018. Pauly, D., Zeller, D. and Palomares, M.L.D. (2021). Sea Around Us Concepts, Design and Data. www.seaaroundus.org [30 June 2021]
2National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2017). Fisheries Economics of the United States. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/sustainable-fisheries/fisheries-economics-united-states [28 October 2021]
3Almond, R.G. (2017). U.S. Ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/u-s-ratification-of-the-law-of-the-sea-convention/ [15 July 2021]
4The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2021). United States – Canada Albacore Treaty. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/west-coast/sustainable-fisheries/united-states-canada-albacore-treaty [28 January 2020]
5Froese, R., Demirel, N., Coro, G., Kleisner, K.M. and Winker, H. (2017). Estimating Fisheries Reference Points from Catch and Resilience, Fish and Fisheries 18, (3), pp. 506-526, https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12190 [03 June 2021]
6Froese, R., Winker, H., Coro, G., Palomares, M.L.D., Tsikliras, A.C., Dimarchopoulou, D., Touloumis, K., Demirel, N., Vianna, G.M.S., Scarcella, G., Schijns, R., Liang, C. and Pauly, D. (in review). Catch Time Series As the Basis For Fish Stock Assessments: The CMSY++ Method, Fish and Fisheries, [3 March 2021]