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Natural Resource Sector, Fishing

Alaskan pollock, Pacific cod, lower Mississippi River, menhaden, trout farms

The U.S. waters off the coast of North America provide a rich marine harvest, which is about evenly split in commercial value between fish and shellfish. Humans consume approximately 80 percent of the catch as food. The remaining 20 percent goes into the manufacturing of products such as fish oil, fertilizers, and animal food.

In 1999 the United States had a commercial fish catch of 4.2 million metric tons. The value of the catch was an estimated $3.5 billion in 1999. In most years, the United States ranks fifth among the nations of the world in weight of total catch, behind China, Peru, Chile, and Japan.

Marine species dominate U.S. commercial catches, with freshwater fish representing only a small portion of the total catch. Shellfish account for only one-sixth of the weight of the total catch but nearly one-half of the value; finfish represent the remaining share of weight and value. Alaskan pollock and menhaden, a species used in the manufacture of oil and fertilizer, are the largest catches by tonnage. The most valuable seafood harvests are crabs, salmon, and shrimp, each representing about one-sixth of the total value. Other important species include lobsters, clams, flounders, scallops, Pacific cod, and oysters.

Alaska leads all states in both volume and value of the catch; important species caught off Alaska’s coast include pollock and salmon. Other leading fishing states, ranked by value, are Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, Maine, California, Florida, Washington, and Virginia. Important species caught in the New England region include lobsters, scallops, clams, oysters, and cod; in the Chesapeake Bay, crabs; and in the Gulf of Mexico, menhaden and shrimp.

Much of the annual U.S. tonnage of commercial freshwater fish comes from aquatic farms. The most important species raised on farms are catfish, trout, salmon, oysters, and crawfish. The total annual output of private catfish and trout farms in the mid-1990s was 235,800 metric tons, valued at more than $380 million. In the 1970s catfish farming became important in states along the lower Mississippi River. Mississippi leads all states in the production of catfish on farms.

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