The commercial fishing industry is one of the largest, and oldest, market sectors in the world. Depending upon who you ask to define it, it could include everything from traditional fishing on the open seas, to inland aquaculture operations ("fish farms"), to freshwater recreational angling. For some, fish are seen as a healthier, more humane protein option, and fishing shows promise for feeding the world's ever-growing population as farmland and soil quality on land are depleted ever further.
The fishing industry is ideally suited for those countries with long coastlines. Landlocked countries are not able to have a traditional fishing industry outside of freshwater angling and aquaculture, and depend mainly on seafood imports from other countries to meet their demands for fish. The top fish-producing countries today are China, India, Peru, Indonesia, and the US. In terms of exports of frozen fish the US, with $2.1 billion in export value, stood second to only China, with their own $2.6 billion in annual exports. Some of the other countries that are notable for exports of frozen fish in terms of value are Russia, Norway, Chile and Taiwan. In the developing countries, fish farming or aquaculture, is also becoming immensely popular. In the US, the fishing industry is concentrated along the Gulf and New England Coasts in the Atlantic, and most of the West Coast and Alaskan waters in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.
The fishing industry involves a multitude of activities on a day-to-day basis. These include fish-catching, harvesting, processing, transportation, distribution and marketing. The industry also facilitates a number of other activities, such as the construction of fishing vessels, fishing gears, refrigeration or cold storage equipment, and much more. Fishermen catch fish mainly from rivers, ponds, canals, backwaters, and oceans. A large number of methods are used to catch fish, ranging from trawling, angling, netting, spear fishing, hand-gathering, and trapping. Globally, there is also a recreational fishing industry or sports fishing. It is estimated that, worldwide, an approximate 54.8 million people are engaged in the process of fish production. The industry size is enormous, it contributes in some fashion to the livelihood of an approximate 10-12 percent of the entire world's working population.
Like hunting, fishing also started as a means to get nutritious food for oneself. For some people across the world, it was more of a way of survival than a means to accrue wealth. The practice of fishing as we would recognize it today is ancient, going back more than 60,000 years. Fishing was very common in every early civilization with access to water bodies, including the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and peoples in the Indus Valley. In the Americas, Native Americans were widely engaged in fishing, but the successful preservation of fish was not achieved. The first large fishing communities were established in the US in the 18th and 19th Centuries, in such places as along the New England Coasts and along the lower Columbia River. One of these important fish trading posts was established in 1846 at Cathlamet, in modern-day Washington State, by James Birnie. His venture involved salting and packaging of fishes obtained by Native Americas, while also supplying nets to European fishermen in the area. Gradually, the trade flourished, and by 1861 fishing industry had a strong foothold in the United States. People began to stock, feed, and harvest fish from ponds, lakes, and reservoirs as well. A large number of immigrants also brought with them their own immense knowledge of fishing and marine life harvesting. This facilitated the growth of industry tremendously. Today, the US fishing industry is facing a multitude of challenges, ranging from environmental issues to difficulties in resource management.
The fishing industry is facing a number of problems due to environmental concerns worldwide, as coral reefs, wetlands, and ocean beds continue to be destroyed because of the activities of the commercial fishing industry. According to some research studies, the food web is being destroyed because of overfishing by the industry. In 2013, the US fishing industry also encountered a major controversy due to changes in the Fisheries Act, implemented by the US Federal Government. The fishing industry also receives much flak from social activists and international organizations across the world for reasons that go beyond fishing in and of itself as well. In some countries, such as Thailand, the industry's ships facilitate human trafficking, and supports modern slavery to provide it with cheap manpower.