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Overfishing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding U.S. Fishery Management

By Lee Crockett

The United States has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, containing 3.4 million square miles [8.8 million square kilometers] of ocean and 90,000 miles [145,000 kilometers] of coastline.[i] Throughout this vast underwater realm, fish play an essential role in the interconnected web of life on which we depend. In fact, they are one of America’s most valuable natural resources, adding billions to the U.S. economy and supporting millions of jobs through fishing and recreation.

Unfortunately, overfishing—taking fish from our oceans faster than they can reproduce—has plagued U.S. oceans for decades and continues today. This squanders valuable fish populations and weakens ocean ecosystems, making them more vulnerable to problems like pollution, natural disturbances and climate change.

The good news is that we have a strong law in place in the United States governing how fish are managed in federal waters, and serious efforts are underway to end overfishing and rebuild depleted populations. The Pew Environment Group supports these goals through our work at the federal and regional levels of government, where decisions are made about these invaluable marine resources.

“With so much at stake, it’s critical that as many Americans as possible be actively engaged in this discussion.”

Fishermen, conservationists and scientists have actively debated how best to manage our ocean fish populations for decades. But with so much at stake, it’s critical that as many Americans as possible be actively engaged in this discussion. The “Overfishing 101” blog series aims to do just that by providing a new outlet, in which we hope to open up the discussion to the larger public, cut through the rhetoric and encourage more people to participate in marine fish conservation.

Photo by Captain Tom Migdalski


In coming posts, I will cover the basic state of our nation’s ocean fish populations, explore policies that can help safeguard them for future generations and dispel some myths about how current U.S. fisheries policy is made.  In addition, the series will feature insights from independent experts and partners working with Pew, as well as interactive web content, such as videos and other online resources related to ocean fish and fishing.

More About Us

The Federal Fisheries Policy Project leads efforts to ensure that Congress and the National Marine Fisheries Service effectively implement the law to end overfishing, rebuild depleted fish populations and protect ocean ecosystems.

The campaign works closely with scientists, policy makers, fishery managers, fishermen and conservation organizations throughout the country to promote adequate funding and support current fish conservation mandates.

To find out how you can help, go to: www.pewenvironment.org

Lee Crockett joined the Pew Environment Group in June 2007 as director of Federal Fisheries Policy. Before that, he was executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the largest national coalition dedicated exclusively to promoting the sustainable management of ocean fish. Previously, he was a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, leading agency efforts to protect essential fish habitat. He also served as a staff member of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, working on a variety of fisheries, environmental and boating safety issues.

Crockett holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Connecticut. Before college, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

This series of posts authored by Lee Crockett—head of Pew Environment Group Federal Fisheries Policy and a life-long angler—explores the importance of sustainable fisheries management to the U.S. The series marks the 35th anniversary of the passage of America’s primary fisheries management law (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) coming up next month (April 13).

The views expressed in this post are those of Lee Crockett and/or Pew Environment, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. We welcome other viewpoints and comments, but reserve the right to edit or delete abusive or objectionable content.

Footnote: [i] http://coastalmap.marine.usgs.gov/GISdata/basemaps/boundaries/eez/NOAA/useez_noaa.htm


  1. […] is hosting an “Overfishing 101” blog series written by the very smart Lee […]

  2. Mogens Schou
    April 2, 2011, 4:21 pm

    Who could not agree. PEW represent view on a level of abstraction that prohibit any concerned observer to disagree. With the level of acceptance to its view perhaps PEW would engage in putting its stakes at risk and suggest some concrete action. Catch shares might be on solution. What do you speak in favor for. best regards http://www.fvm.dk/yieldoffish

  3. Vicki Nichols Goldstein
    Boulder Colorado
    March 30, 2011, 7:07 pm

    I completely agree with the comment that “as many Americans as possible be actively engaged in this discussion.” I started up the Colorado Ocean Coalition with that purpose in mind. I believe that you don’t have to see the ocean to protect it and we can do it from a mile high. Thank you for starting up the blog and we will be following it.