Atlantic Pollock

Atlantic Pollock

Pollachius virens


    Saithe, Coalfish, Coley, Green Cod, Boston Bluefish


    U.S. wild-caught from Maine to Virginia



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Atlantic Pollock

Atlantic pollock.


A member of the cod family, Atlantic pollock is a different species than the pollock harvested in the North Pacific, although both are labeled as pollock in the marketplace. The fisheries for these species are very different as well – Alaska pollock is harvested in one of the largest, most valuable industrial fisheries in the world, with landings averaging over 1 million tons. Atlantic pollock, on the other hand, is harvested along with a number of other groundfish species in the Northwest Atlantic, with annual landings of just over 11 million pounds.

Atlantic pollock were traditionally harvested as bycatch in various bottom otter trawl and gillnet fisheries, but directed fishing for pollock increased steadily in the 1980s, peaking in 1986 at 24,000 metric tons (nearly 53 million pounds). However, as fishing increased beyond sustainable levels, abundance of pollock dropped, reaching a low in 1994. Under strict harvest restrictions, landings rapidly decreased and abundance steadily increased. Today, the Atlantic pollock resource is well above its target population level. Harvests have generally increased but remain under the limits imposed by managers to keep the resource abundant.

Looking Ahead

Pollock are managed along with other bottom-dwelling species such as cod, haddock, and several flounder species under the umbrella of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. Because pollock are often caught with other groundfish stocks, an ongoing challenge for managers is to maximize the harvest and associated economic benefits of this rebuilt species without exceeding the catch limits for other groundfish stocks.



Atlantic pollock are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and are most common on the western Scotian Shelf and in the Gulf of Maine. A different species of Atlantic pollock (Pollachius pollachius), commonly known as saithe, is found in the Eastern Atlantic.

Pollock eggs and larvae are found in the water column. Juveniles are found inshore and move offshore as they grow older. When in inshore waters, juvenile pollock school in the open water at low tide, then scatter at high tide and hide in intertidal seaweed beds. Adults live offshore near the ocean floor over a wide variety of bottom habitats including sand, mud, rocks, and vegetation. Atlantic pollock swim in schools and are believed to travel extensively between the Scotian Shelf and Georges Bank and, to a lesser extent, between the Scotian Shelf and the Gulf of Maine.



Atlantic pollock grow fast at first until they sexually mature between the ages of 3 and 6. They grow to over 3-1/2 feet long and 35 pounds and can live a long time, up to 23 years. Atlantic pollock spawn from November through February over hard, stony, or rocky bottoms in areas throughout the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Atlantic pollock spawn multiple times per season. Pollock eggs rise into the water column after they are released and fertilized.

Smaller pollock in inshore waters feed on small crustaceans and small fish; larger pollock mainly prey on fish. A variety of fish eat juvenile pollock; spiny dogfish, monkfish, and other pollock prey on adults.



Atlantic pollock are brownish-green on the back and slightly pale on the belly. They have a small chin barbel, like the whiskers on a catfish. They are a member of the cod family but can be distinguished by their greenish hue and darker flesh.



Scientists at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center conduct bottom trawl surveys every year during the fall and spring in inshore and offshore areas off the northeast coast to monitor the abundance of pollock and other species. They use this data, along with data from surveys conducted by the state fisheries management agencies, and fishery statistics to determine the status of the pollock stock.



According to the latest assessment, estimates of pollock abundance were 196,000 metric tons in 2010, well above the target population level of 91,000 metric tons.



The last stock assessment for pollock suggested that research is needed in several areas, including information on gear selectivity and gear avoidance behavior, a better understanding of stock identification, incorporating additional scientific surveys or alternative survey approaches into future stock assessments, determining the age of old fish, determining the magnitude of historical discards, assessing the mortality of discards by fishing gear type, and using party/charter logbooks for determining the age of fish caught in recreational fisheries.


Harvesting Atlantic Pollock

Atlantic pollock share the same habitat as several other groundfish species in the Northeast. These groundfish are often caught together in the Northeast Multispecies Fishery. Commercial fishermen harvest pollock year-round, primarily with otter trawls and gillnets.

Otter trawls can impact habitat, depending on where they are used. Regulations close key areas to fishing year-round or seasonally to protect habitat and spawning fish. There are also restrictions on the size of fishing gear in certain areas to reduce habitat impacts. Regulations specify a minimum size for the mesh on trawl nets. The current minimum size limit is the largest in the history of the Northeast groundfish fishery. The larger mesh nets catch fewer small fish, and this directly reduces bycatch. There is also a cap on the amount of bycatch that fishing vessels can take.

In New England, gillnets can unintentionally catch marine mammals, especially harbor porpoises and large cetaceans (whales and dolphins). A number of management measures are in place to prevent bycatch in this fishery, including Take Reduction Plans for the harbor porpoise, the Atlantic right whale, and the bottlenose dolphin. Such measures include closed areas, pinger requirements (devices that emit a sound to deter interactions with gear), weak links (breakable sections on gear that prevent entanglement), and gear marking requirements.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council.

Current management: Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.
Atlantic pollock are managed as part of the Northeast Multispecies group, a complex of several groundfish species. Management measures include:

  • Permitting requirements.
  • Time/area closures to control the amount of fishing and harvested fish and to protect spawning fish and habitat.
  • Gear restrictions to reduce bycatch (including fish and marine mammals), reduce impacts to habitat, and prevent undersized (immature) fish from being caught.
  • Minimum size limits to ensure that fish are able to spawn at least once before being caught.
  • Limits on the amount of days vessels can spend fishing and the amount they can catch per fishing trip. This measure is in place to control the amount of fish that may be caught and achieve long-term sustainable catch and population levels.

Managers implemented new measures for the Northeast groundfish fishery in 2010 to end overfishing of and continue to rebuild overfished Northeast groundfish stocks (and maintain healthy ones). These measures include:

  • A limit on the amount of all groundfish that can be caught, as well as measures to respond if the catch limits are exceeded.
  • Optional catch share program—fishing vessels may fish together in groups (called sectors), which are established annually and are allocated a portion of the total available groundfish catch, based on the combined fishing history of sector member vessels. Sectors are exempt from many gear and area restrictions but must stop fishing for groundfish once the sector catches their allocation of fish. This allows fishermen more control over where and how they fish and the ability to target healthier stocks rather than overfished stocks. Fishermen who choose not to join a sector fish under the existing system of regulations, with limits on the number of days they can fish, amount they can catch, and when and where they can fish.

Representatives from each state are seated on the New England Fishery Management Council, and state regulations generally reflect those developed by the Council. The vast majority of pollock landings come from federal (offshore) rather than state waters. Currently, only about 5 percent of annual quotas (about 1.6 million pounds) are set aside for catch of pollock in state waters.


Annual Harvest

Annual harvests have generally increased since the mid-1990s, ranging between 10 and 20 million pounds since 1998. The 2012 commercial harvest of Atlantic pollock totaled more than 14.8 million pounds.



The commercial harvest was valued at more than $13.1 million in 2012. Historically, pollock has been a relatively low-value fish, with annual average price never exceeding $1 per pound from 1996 to 2012. 



There is a small recreational fishery for pollock. Recreational catch accounts for only about 10 percent of overall catch in recent years. Recreational catch peaked at nearly 4 million pounds in 2008, up from a low of approximately 220,000 pounds in 1993. There are currently no regulations governing the amount of pollock that can be caught by recreational vessels, although anglers must still comply with the minimum fish size of 19 inches total length. Regulations allow for a specific allocation of the yearly pollock quota to the recreational fishery if recreational catch in federal waters exceeds 5 percent of overall catch.



Atlantic pollock are larger and have slightly darker flesh and higher oil content than Alaska pollock, (a different pollock species). The meat is white and firm and has a sweet, delicate flavor. Atlantic pollock is sold whole, as fillets, and as fresh, frozen, or smoked steaks. (FishChoice, 2012) disclaimer



Pollock is generally available year-round, with peak landings from November through January.



Atlantic pollock is very low in saturated fat and is a very good source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 92
Protein 19.44 g
Fat, total 0.98 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.135 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 71 mg
Selenium 36.5mcg
Sodium 86 mg

Atlantic Pollock Table of Nutrition