US Army Corps of Engineers
Institute for Water Resources Website

Tales of the Coast
Sharing the Coast



Offshore fishing grounds have drawn people to the coast for thousands of years, and early settlers reaped the benefits of marine food sources on the coast of the United States.

Fishing remains an important economic activity in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Shellfish such as crabs and lobsters are found in New England. Finfish, including black sea bass, summer flounder, and Atlantic croaker, frequent the mid-Atlantic coast. The Chesapeake Bay has been famous for its oysters, which are now at risk from man-made pressures.

Along with commercial fishing, recreational fishing has grown in popularity, particularly in resort areas on the Atlantic coast. The Corps values the economic and environmental significance of fisheries, and they strive to find engineering alternatives that do not adversely impact marine life.

For example, offshore shoals, which are often dredged as sediment sources for beach nourishment projects, are evaluated for their importance as fishing grounds and fish habitats. Deeper regions surrounding offshore shoals have been observed as biologically rich areas, and if a potential sand source hosts active fishing grounds, it is excluded as a dredging source. Collaboration with government and scientific agencies and thorough review processes allow the Corps to protect coastal resources while addressing coastal needs.

The Gulf Coast has historically featured some of the most abundant fisheries in the country. Indeed, it is the largest commercial fishery in the contiguous United States. The bays and marshes between barriers and the mainland provide food, shelter, and breeding and nursery grounds for a rich diversity of marine life. These fisheries are major sources of shrimp, oysters, blue crab, crawfish, sea trout and Atlantic croaker, to name only a few.

Gulf Coast fisheries, however, are at risk from natural and anthropogenic stresses. Severe sediment deprivation has resulted in the extensive loss of wetlands and erosion of barrier islands, both of which host habitat for marine species. Subsidence, reduction of the sediment supply by structures controlling the Mississippi River, and storm-induced erosion have significantly pressured fishery resources. The oil spill of 2010 also affected large swathes of coastal fishery areas.

The Corps and many Federal and state partners have initiated restoration efforts for Gulf marshes and barriers, particularly since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. These programs can help increase the health and resiliency of fisheries by restoring and preserving the resources that support marine life.

Kelp beds, found along the rocky coasts of the Pacific, harbor extensive biological communities that include fish, sea otters, lobster, starfish, mollusk, abalones, and many other invertebrates. Man's main impact has been the commercial harvesting of various portions of this community, including the kelp.

In the past, hunting sea otters for their pelts allowed sea urchins to multiply, and the overpopulation of sea urchins grazed and destroyed many beds. Today, the reestablishment of sea otter populations has led to conflict with shell fishermen.

The Pacific Northwest has also been a rich source of salmon and Dungeness crabs. However, the large number of dams along West Coast rivers, such as the Columbia River, has significantly reduced the populations of migrating salmon. Like those on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, fisheries on the Pacific must balance the health of coastal ecosystems and marine life populations with many competing uses of coastal systems.

Atlantic Fishing Boat

Atlantic Fishing Boat
Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)


Horseshoe crabs, surf clams, and oysters are just a few Atlantic shellfish species at risk from overfishing and water pollution.

Gulf Coast Fisheries

The Gulf Coast is the largest producer of blue crabs, oysters and crawfish in the United States.

Pacific Coast Fisheries

Kelp beds are sometimes noted as the temperate latitude counterpart to coral reefs.