And more than half of it wasn't caught in the wild, but farmed, either in ocean pens or on land.
Fish farming, a.k.a. aquaculture, can be a disaster if it's not done right. When conducted in a portioned off part of the ocean without proper regulations, aquaculture can release pesticides, antibiotics, and escaped fish into the wild that can negatively alter the natural ecosystem, according the the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
But most of the seafood we eat in the future will likely be farmed since it has the potential to be much more sustainable than overfishing the oceans to supply a growing demand. A World Resources Institute report predicted that aquaculture production will have to double globally by 2050 in order to feed the 9 billion people on the planet by then.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hopes to make more seafood American-grown, especially since aquaculture regulations are much more stringent and sustainable here.
On Monday, the agency announced it would start granting permits for fish farming in the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico — an area stretching 4.4 million square miles.
Up to 20 fish farms could get the 10-year permits, producing 64 million pounds of fish annually, the Associated Press reported. This could bolster the US aquaculture industry, which produced 662 million pounds of seafood in 2013, at a value of $1.4 billion.
And it will be good for the ocean, too. The US has much stricter standards for fish farming than many of the countries we now import aquaculture from, like China and Thailand, which means we will have a better grasp on what is in our fish and how responsibly it had been produced.
myfwcmedia/FlickrMichael Rubino, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, said in a Q&A that he's visited salmon farmers in Maine, and was impressed with how responsible their practices were.
"Their locations are properly sited in terms of water quality, their feeds are efficient in that they don’t sink to the bottom, they vaccinate the fish instead of using antibiotics, they’ve had few if any escapes in recent years, and they even fallow between crops like land-based farmers to allow the bottom to recuperate," he said.
The US can produce truly sustainable seafood, and responsible aquaculture will inevitably have to feed the planet. This move from NOAA is a big step toward getting most of the fish Americans eat from our own fisheries, where we can make sure it's farmed right.