Investigating Waste in the Seafood Supply Chain

Schools of black fish on a blue background

For National Seafood Month we’re examining the issue of waste in the seafood supply chain while providing some helpful tips and tricks for how you can purchase and prepare the most sustainable seafood possible.

It’s a hard fact to swallow, but at a time of rampant hunger and food insecurity, the USDA estimates that 30-40% of food is lost or wasted. 1 This waste occurs at every step of the supply chain, from the moment food is harvested or caught, to when it’s packed, shipped, and stored. Even the leftover food on our plates after dinner, in aggregate, represents a significant source of food waste. Unfortunately, waste in the seafood supply chain, while sometimes overlooked, is no less of an important or stubborn problem. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) found that half the seafood supply of the United States  — roughly 2.3 billion pounds of fish — is lost to waste. 2 Read on to learn more about where waste is specifically created in the supply chain, from aboard a fishing boat to your plate.

Fishing and Bycatch

Widely-used industrial fishing techniques like long-lining, which entails unfurling hooked and baited fishing lines that can stretch for up to 50 miles, as well as bottom trawling, where weighted nets are used to indiscriminately scrape the ocean floor, both cause extensive damage to marine ecosystems. These techniques also create large amounts of bycatch, or unintentionally caught species that die without being used for food or some other purpose. In fact, most bycatch is simply thrown back into the ocean. Each year, roughly 573 million pounds of bycatch is generated due to these unsustainable fishing practices. 3

Distribution and Retailing

Once seafood has been caught and packaged, it needs to make its way to the end consumer, which creates more opportunities for waste. According to CLF, roughly 330 million pounds of seafood are lost due to a variety of factors during the distribution and retailing process. 4 Despite the best efforts of shippers, wholesalers, and retailers like grocery stores, a significant portion of the seafood lost during these steps in the supply chain is due to spoilage.


By far the greatest single source of seafood waste comes after the fish has already been caught, processed, shipped to a retailer, and sold to a consumer. In fact, post-consumer waste makes up some 51-63% of the overall amount of wasted seafood in the United States each year. 5  CLF researchers estimate that “this lost seafood could contain enough protein to fulfill the annual requirements for as many as 10 million men or 12 million women.” 6  The consumer’s role in generating significant amounts of seafood waste is a good reminder for all of us to focus on reducing and preventing food waste at home in our kitchens.