Commercial Fishing in the Mid-Atlantic


Fishermen in the Mid-Atlantic region have been supporting themselves by harvesting fish and shellfish for more than 300 years.  Today, as more than 70,000 fishermen continue to work in the commercial seafood industry, it is evident that commercial fishing continues are still an economic and cultural mainstay for many communities.

Economic Impacts

The economic impacts of commercial fishing are substantial.  In 2011, there were 485 dealers, 3,500 vessel operators, and 2,800 commercial and for-hire vessels licensed to harvest Mid-Atlantic species. The direct income impact of commercial industry jobs totaled nearly $540 million.  In addition, commercial fisheries have many indirect positive impacts on the surrounding community and the supporting industries such as restaurants and ice houses. Domestic fisheries contribute about 2.5 billion each to the Mid-Atlantic region’s economy.


In 2011, the Mid-Atlantic species with the highest landings by volume was Illex squid, with more than 40 million pounds landed.  Based on volume of landings, the top three Mid-Atlantic species in 2011 were Illex squid, Atlantic surfclam, and Ocean quahog.  Based on landings revenue, the top three species were Summer flounder, Atlantic surfclam, and Longfin squid.

Mid-Atlantic Commercial Landings, 2000-2013

Includes total commercial landings for all Mid-Atlantic states (North Carolina - New York)

Mid-Atlantic Commercial Landings by State, 2013

Commercial Fishing Methods and Lifestyle

Commercial fishermen use a variety of vessels and gear types to harvest fish and shellfish in the Mid-Atlantic. Though a large number of people work in the commercial fishing industry, small fishing vessels make up the overwhelming majority of fishing operations. While many people know that fishing can be dangerous work, they may not know that the trade also requires a high level of skill. Fishermen often harvest multiple types of fish or shellfish.  To do this, they must have a keen sense of weather patterns and currents and know how to operate various types of fishing gear or vessels.   A successful fishing trip may require waking up in the middle of the night to begin the workday or spending weeks out at sea—all without any certainty of finding fish. 

In addition to the time spent on the water, fishermen who own their own business must spend time off the boat handling the many responsibilities of business ownership, such as hiring and managing a crew, keeping permits and licenses are up-to-date, maintaining the vessel and gear, and finding dealers or processors.

Many fishermen also take time away from fishing to participate in fisheries research projects or provide input on one of the Council’s advisory panels.  Members of the commercial fishing industry play a very important role in the fisheries management process. By working with fishery scientists and managers, commercial fishermen can help explain data trends, predict possible outcomes of management decisions, and help develop innovative solutions to management problems.

Meet the Commercial Fishing Community of the Mid-Atlantic