Sudden disruptions, or shocks, to food production can adversely impact access to and trade of food commodities. Seafood is the most traded food commodity and is globally important to human nutrition. The seafood production and trade system is exposed to a variety of disruptions including fishery collapses, natural disasters, oil spills, policy changes, and aquaculture disease outbreaks, aquafeed resource access and price spikes. The patterns and trends of these shocks to fisheries and aquaculture are poorly characterized and this limits the ability to generalize or predict responses to political, economic, and environmental changes. We applied a statistical shock detection approach to historic fisheries and aquaculture data to identify shocks over the period 1976–2011. A complementary case study approach was used to identify possible key social and political dynamics related to these shocks. The lack of a trend in the frequency or magnitude of the identified shocks and the range of identified causes suggest shocks are a common feature of these systems which occur due to a variety, and often multiple and simultaneous, causes. Shocks occurred most frequently in the Caribbean and Central America, the Middle East and North Africa, and South America, while the largest magnitude shocks occurred in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Shocks also occurred more frequently in aquaculture systems than in capture systems, particularly in recent years. In response to shocks, countries tend to increase imports and experience decreases in supply. The specific combination of changes in trade and supply are context specific, which is highlighted through four case studies. Historical examples of shocks considered in this study can inform policy for responding to shocks and identify potential risks and opportunities to build resilience in the global food system.