Alaska Pollock

Pollack illustration

Theragra chalcogramma

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Pollock,
    Walleye pollock,
    Pacific pollock

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught, mainly in the Bering Sea off Alaska
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

Click the icons to learn more about each criteria

 
 

OVERVIEW

Alaska Pollock

Larval pollock among zooplankton

LAUNCH GALLERY

The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. It’s one of the first U.S. fisheries to be managed with catch shares and is often considered one of the best managed fisheries in the world. In the early 1990s, there were too many boats fishing for available Alaska pollock and other North Pacific groundfish. When the fishing season started, individual vessels would race to catch as much pollock as quickly as possible to maximize their share of the allowed pollock catch. This resulted in an inefficient, unsafe fishery that wasn’t very profitable. To fix these issues, managers limited the amount of vessels that could fish for pollock, eliminating a number of large catcher-processor vessels from the fleet. The remaining vessels were able to join “fishing cooperatives.” Cooperative members not only manage their share of the pollock catch among themselves, but also agree on how their cooperative will meet other management goals such as reducing bycatch. Fishing in cooperatives has slowed the pace of the fishery which has had both environmental and socioeconomic benefits – improved fishing practices, reduced impact on other species, made better use of the catch (in terms of pound of product sold per pound of fish caught), increased value of the catch, and improved safety.

The Alaska pollock fishery is also a great example of science-based, adaptive management at work. Every year, managers adjust the amount of Alaska pollock that fishermen can harvest according to population levels and other factors, such as the overall limit on groundfish catch for the eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions. This means that if scientists find that the population has dipped below its target level, managers reduce the amount that fishermen are allowed to harvest to bring the population back to the target level. As the population grows above target levels, managers will raise the amount fishermen can harvest. Scientifically trained observers closely monitor catches to ensure that limits of pollock (and other species incidentally caught in the pollock fishery) are not exceeded.

Alaska pollock are also found in international waters where no country has sole jurisdiction. The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea is responsible for the conservation, management, and best use of pollock resource in the high seas of the Bering Sea. In the Convention Area, pollock declined to very low levels by the early 1990s. Member states (China, Japan, Korea, Poland, Russia, and the United States) have suspended commercial pollock fishing in the Convention Area since 1993 to allow the stock to rebuild. Despite the fishing moratorium, pollock abundance in international areas remains at low levels. The United States continues to promote and support these international conservation measures.

Looking Ahead

According to the American Fisheries Society, the scientific name for Alaska pollock has changed. But it will take several years for all the agencies that regulate trade in seafood products to update their nomenclature. In the meantime, it’s business as usual. Learn more..

 
 
 

LOCATION & HABITAT

Alaska pollock are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean but are most common in the Bering Sea. Younger pollock live in the mid-water region of the ocean; older pollock (age 5 and up) typically dwell near the ocean floor. Pollock swim in large schools in waters between 330 and 985 feet deep but are sometimes found as deep as 3,300 feet.

 
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BIOLOGY

Alaska pollock grow fast and have a relatively short life of about 12 years. As a result, they are generally more productive compared to slower-growing, longer-living species. Pollock are able to reproduce by the age of 3 or 4 and are extremely fertile, so each generation replaces aging or harvested fish in just a few years. In the spring, pollock migrate inshore to shallow water to breed and feed. They move back to warmer, deeper waters in the winter months. The survival of young pollock depends on several factors such as the availability of food, environmental conditions, and predation. Their survival rate is highly variable, which can potentially cause big fluctuations in the abundance of pollock in a matter of a few years.

Juvenile pollock eat zooplankton (tiny floating animals) and small fish. Older pollock feed on other fish including juvenile pollock. Pollock play an important role in the ecosystem. A lot of other species, including Steller sea lions and other marine mammals, fish, and seabirds feed on pollock and rely on them for survival.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

Pollock is a member of the cod family. They can grow to a maximum size of more than 3 feet but average 12 to 20 inches in length and 1/2 to 2 pounds in weight. They have speckled coloring that helps them blend in with the seafloor to avoid predators.

 
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OVERVIEW

Scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys every year to assess the abundance of crab and groundfish (like pollock) in the Eastern Bering Sea. Scientists also conduct acoustic trawl surveys in this region every two years to estimate the abundance of pollock living off the bottom. In the Gulf of Alaska, they conduct acoustic trawl surveys on spawning grounds every winter and bottom trawl surveys every other year in the summer. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also provides samples from the pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska during their nearshore bottom trawl surveys (conducted primarily to monitor crab stocks). Managers use the data from these surveys along with information about the fishery and species to determine how much pollock can be harvested every year and make other management decisions. Pollock abundance has varied over time, in part due to natural environmental conditions.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

To assess the health of the pollock population, scientists estimate the “female spawning biomass”, a measure of the pollock stock’s ability to reproduce. Regulations for the pollock fishery aim to conserve the spawning population to ensure pollock can successfully reproduce and keep the population size at healthy levels. In the eastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, Pollock spawning biomass is currently estimated to be above the target level.

There are five stocks of Alaska pollock: Aleutian Islands, Eastern Bering Sea, Western/Central Gulf of Alaska, Bogoslof, and the Eastern Gulf of Alaska. Last assessed in 2013, no stocks are currently subject to overfishing. The Aleutian Islands, Eastern Bering Sea and Western/Central Gulf of Alaska pollock stocks are not overfished. The overfished status for the Bogoslof and Eastern Gulf of Alaska stocks is unknown.

 
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Overview

When the United States extended its fisheries management jurisdiction out to 200 miles offshore in 1976, U.S. fishermen or processors were not active in the Alaska pollock fishery. Initially, the United States allowed foreign fishing and fish processing vessels to harvest and process "surplus" pollock. By the late 1980s, U.S. fishermen and processors fully harvested available pollock quotas and foreign fleets were phased out. For more than 30 years, the United States has maintained safe harvest levels for Alaska pollock, and the fishery is now the largest whitefish fishery in the world.

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Harvesting Pollock

In the U.S., pollock are harvested by trawlers. These vessels tow a large cone-shaped net through the mid-water to harvest schools of pollock. Some of these vessels are “catcher-processors” and process their catch at sea; others are just “catchers” and deliver their catch to shore-based processors or motherships (at-sea processors which rely on catcher vessels to harvest and deliver fish to them).

The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the cleanest in terms of incidental catch of other species. Less than 2 percent of the total Alaska pollock catch is made up of other species. However, bycatch of Pacific salmon is a particular concern because of its importance to commercial and subsistence fisheries. Scientifically trained observers carefully monitor Pacific salmon bycatch numbers. When feasible, the salmon are donated to local Alaska food banks. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recently refined measures to further reduce Chinook salmon bycatch. These measures place hard caps on the amount of Chinook salmon bycatch allowed and effectively ensure that individual vessel operators act to minimize bycatch. The pollock industry has developed several innovative approaches to meet these new requirements including using NOAA Fisheries Observer program data to close salmon bycatch hotspots to fishing on a weekly basis and testing a new “salmon excluder device” for trawl nets. The council is also analyzing the impact of the pollock fishery on other salmon species and is developing measures to refine current bycatch minimization programs.

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Management

Who’s in charge? The North Pacific Fishery Management Council provides management advice to NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries uses the advice to develop regulations and provides in-season management measures that control the fishery and ensures that catches are below all of the imposed limits (for all stocks including non-targeted and prohibited species). The State of Alaska disclaimer has jurisdiction over fishermen operating in state waters.

Current management: Groundfish Fishery Management Plans for the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (managed along with fisheries for several other groundfish species like Pacific cod, flounder, and sole)

  • Vessels must have a permit to fish for pollock
  • Limit on the number of fishermen participating in the fishery
  • Annual limit on how much pollock that can be harvested
  • Restrictions on when and where vessels can fish to protect other species and their habitat
  • Restrictions on the type of gear that can be used
  • Measures to reduce bycatch including a program to decrease incidental catch of Chinook salmon through limits on salmon bycatch, increased obeserver coverage, and incentives for pollock fishing vessles to avoid Chinook salmon at all times
  • Special management measures in both the federal and state fisheries to protect endangered Steller sea lions and their critical habitat
  • Reporting requirements that communicate (daily where practical) catches to NOAA Fisheries regional office, which projects inseason catch limits and announces fishery closures
  • Observer monitoring
  • Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program - since 1992, 10 percent of the annual pollock quota has been allocated to Western Alaskan "Community Development" groups to reduce poverty and provide economic and social benefits for residents of western Alaska villages

 

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Annual Harvest

The majority of the U.S. catch of pollock comes from the Bering Sea. From 1977-2011 the catch of eastern Bering Sea pollock has averaged 1.17 million tons. Since 2001, the average has been above 1.28 million tons. However, the average 2009 and 2010 catch has dropped to 0.81 million tons due to stock declines and resulting reductions in allowable harvest levels. In 2011, harvest levels were increased due to favorable signs of pollock born in 2006 and 2008, and the catch was 1.2 million tons. For 2012 through 2014 the Bearing Sea/Aleutian Islands harvest levels average 1.26 million tons.

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Economy

The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the most valuable in the world. The 2012 pollock catch from the Bering Sea was valued at more than $343 million. Products made from pollock were valued at $1 billion. A quarter of pollock products are surimi (imitation crab), almost a fifth is roe (eggs), and close to half is fillets.

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OVERVIEW

Most Alaska pollock catch comes from the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. The United States, Russia, Japan, and Korea are the primary suppliers of Alaska pollock.

Pollock is a mild fish with a slightly coarse texture. It’s oil content is a bit higher and is often more flavorful than other white fish like cod or haddock. Boneless fillets are creamy tan in color. Cooked, the meat is white, firm, and flaky. Pollock is commonly used in surimi (imitation crab) and fried fillet sandwiches but is also sold headed and gutted and in fillets and can be a great substitute for cod.

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Fresh – January through April and June through October
Frozen – year-round

 
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NUTRITION

Alaska pollock is high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 81
Protein 17.18 g
Fat, total 0.8 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.164 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 71 mg
Selenium 21.9 mcg
Sodium 99 mg

Alaska Pollock Table of Nutrition

 
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