The fish we kill to feed the fish we eat
A Fish Article from


Harish, Counting Animals
March 2015

For MUCH MORE detailed, concise information please visit Counting Animals' page here.

The majority of the fish we eat are not ones caught in the wild. They are farmed—confined and raised in overcrowded indoor tanks or sea cages—under the more decorous name of aquaculture. Yet, we kill billions of wild fish. Some of them end up on our dinner plates. But, most of the wild fish we kill die at our hands because we want to turn them into feed for the caged fish we eat.

Just how many wild fish do we Americans kill to feed the farmed fish and shellfish we eat? For several reasons, obtaining an answer to this question is not straightforward. Firstly, government agencies report on the fish and shellfish we capture in the heartless metric of tonnages and not in the numbers of individual animals. Secondly, the complexity and the variety of processing methodologies at fisheries renders elusive any hope for precision. Finally, the lack of international trade data that distinguishes between aquacultured and wild-caught animals forces assumptions which, even when they appear reasonable, cannot be confirmed as being true.

But, with the caveat that this will always be a work in progress, let’s try anyway, beginning with a look at our per capita consumption of sea animals in 2013. In this post, the animals who become what is commonly called “seafood” will be called sea animals.

Each year, the National Fisheries Institute, using raw data from the Fisheries Statistics Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service, releases data on per capita consumption of sea animals by United States residents. This data is based on the total US supply of fish and shellfish calculated as total domestic landings (caught in the seas and brought to domestic shores) plus our imports minus our exports. However, since it does not include US-produced aquaculture, it slightly underestimates the total US supply and the per capita consumption.

US-produced aquaculture data are not yet released for 2013, but we can reach a reasonable approximation using the 2012 data from the Fisheries of the United States (2013) report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service. With this adjustment to the data from the National Fisheries Institute, in the bar graph below, I plot the estimated per capita consumption in the U.S. in 2013 of the edible weight of fish and shellfish.

eating fish

For MUCH MORE information and tables for the following topics, visit visit Counting Animals' page here.

The live weight of aquacultured animals we eat

The live weight of wild fish killed for aquaculture

The sea animals killed to feed the pigs and chickens we eat

Who are we grinding down into fishmeal and fish oil?

Fishmeal and fish oil produced from fish residues

Common mistakes in computing or using the FIFO ratio

The number of wild fish killed

Return to Fishes
Read more at Animal Rights Articles