NOAA Fisheries

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Program Overview

NOAA Fisheries, also known as National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), is a U.S. federal agency within the Department of Commerce that provides much of the scientific data and monitoring that serves as the basis of most seafood certification and ratings programs for U.S. fisheries. The agency is responsible for the stewardship of national marine resources, conducting stock assessments, and research on fish biology and ecosystems. NOAA Fisheries works with eight regional fishery management councils around the country, composed of members representing commercial and recreational fishing, and environmental, academic, and government interests. Together they assess and predict the status of fish stocks, set catch limits, ensure compliance with fisheries regulations, and reduce bycatch. Overall, NOAA Fisheries manages nearly 500 stocks in over 45 fishery management plans within the U.S. and its territories.

U.S. fisheries are among the most sustainable in the world, due to a strong management process that relies on sound science and an ecosystem-based approach. U.S. fisheries management is guided by several laws, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act. The MSA is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters, fostering the long-term biological and economic sustainability of U.S. marine fisheries out to 200 nautical miles from shore. MSA’s key objectives are to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term economic and social benefits, use reliable data and sound science to inform management decisions, conserve essential fish habitat, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.

The MSA has 10 National Standards that act as key principles for sustainable fisheries management and must be followed in any fishery management plan:

  1. Optimum Yield
  2. Scientific Information
  3. Management Units
  4. Allocations
  5. Efficiency
  6. Variations and Contingencies
  7. Costs & Benefits
  8. Communities Bycatch
  9. Safety of Life at Sea

Under the MSA, U.S. fisheries management is a transparent and robust process of science, management, innovation, and collaboration with the fishing industry. There are three pillars of fisheries management—science, management, and enforcement. This system is designed to prevent overfishing, quickly stop overfishing when it occurs, and rebuild overfished stocks.

FishWatch is NOAA’s database on U.S. federally managed wild-caught and farmed sustainable seafood, helping consumers make smart seafood choices. Profiles provide up-to-date information on the status of fish stocks, monitoring, and management. NOAA FishWatch is not a program that provides ratings, certifications, or an ecolabel, but does provide unbiased facts on the science and management behind the responsible harvest and farming of U.S. produced seafood.