According to the World Health Organization, about a billion people throughout the world rely on fish, crustaceans, and shellfish, as their main source of protein and healthy fats. However, according to a recent report, about billions of pounds of completely edible seafood are being unnecessarily discarded by U.S. fisheries, threatening both our health and our ocean’s sustainability.

In the study, currently published in the online journal Global Environmental Change, researchers estimated that from 2009 to 2013 about 40 to 47 percent of all seafood caught by U.S. fishers was thrown away. Since Time reported that the total edible seafood supply during this time was around 4.7 billion pounds per year, this means that each year around 2 billion pounds of food were simply tossed away. The highest amount of seafood was lost at the consumer level, but according to Time, about 570 million pounds were thrown away when fishers caught the wrong species, and a further 330 pounds were lost during the distribution process.

“A portion of the loss of seafood is unavoidable, especially because seafood can spoil quickly compared to other foods,” the authors wrote. “But continuing to treat our aquatic resources as though they are limitless is unsustainable and detrimental to the environment and public health.”

Fish and other seafood play an important role in our diets, and according to the U.S. dietary guidelines, many Americans are not meeting their recommended seafood intake. There are endless health benefits associated with increasing your seafood intake, including reducing your risk of cancer and depression, and helping to prevent memory loss. The omega-3 fatty acids found in rich fatty fish such as salmon and sardines have also been linked to reducing the risk for heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even slowing down the aging process.

Unfortunately, throwing away millions of pounds of perfectly edible fish and other seafood makes meeting our daily fish quota increasingly difficult. To put the sheer loss of food on scale, the study reported that the lost seafood could fill 36 percent of the weekly gap between median seafood consumption among adults at the USDA recommended levels. The amount of nutrients in the lost seafood could provide the equivalent of the total yearly quantity of protein for 10.1 million men or 12.4 million women.

However, the lost seafood does not only have negative implications for human health, it could affect have a serious effect on the environment. Overfishing, ocean pollution, and unsustainable seafood farming have already pushed our ocean’s ecosystems to the brink, and many important seafood staples in our diets are becoming increasingly endangered.

According to the report, threats such as unprecedented population growth and climate change could be enough to push U.S. and global seafood supplies to the breaking point. As a result, the team suggests we immediately implement seafood waste reduction policies in order to “support increased seafood consumption without further stressing aquatic resources.” Waste prevention strategies proposed by the researchers involved including governments, businesses, and consumers to work together to ensure a sustainable seafood system for us all.

Source: Love DC, Fry JP, Milli MC, Neff RA. Wasted seafood in the United States: Quantifying loss from production to consumption and moving toward solutions. Global Environmental Change. 2015.