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Alaska Pollock

Gadus chalcogrammus

Also Known As

  • Pollock
  • Walleye pollock
  • Pacific pollock

U.S. wild-caught Alaska pollock is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

Above target population levels.

Fishing Rate

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impacts

The Alaska pollock fishery uses midwater trawl nets that, although sometimes making contact with the bottom, have minimal impact on habitat.

Bycatch

The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the cleanest in terms of incidental catch of other species (less than 1 percent).

  • Availability

    Fresh from January to April and June to October. Frozen year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught, mainly in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

  • Taste

    Pollock has mild-tasting flesh and is similar to other white fish like cod or haddock.

  • Texture

    Pollock has a relatively fine texture and is well suited for a variety of preparations.

  • Health Benefits

    Alaska pollock is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates and fat.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the most valuable in the world.
    • In 2016, commercial landings of Alaska pollock from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska totaled more than 3.35 billion pounds and were valued at more than $417 million.
    • In 2015, products made from pollock were valued at more than $1 billion. A quarter of pollock products are surimi (imitation crab), almost one-fifth is roe (eggs), and close to half are fillets.
    • The majority of the U.S. catch of pollock comes from the Bering Sea.
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • In the United States, pollock are caught by trawlers that tow a large cone-shaped net through the mid-water.
    • Less than 1 percent of the total Alaska pollock catch is made up of other species.
    • Bycatch of Pacific salmon is a particular concern because of its importance to commercial and subsistence fisheries. The relative impact of the pollock fishery on critical salmon runs has been estimated to be relatively low, especially since 2007.
    • 100 percent of pollock fishing boats in the Bering Sea carry scientifically trained observers.  They carefully monitor and count all Pacific salmon caught incidentally in the pollock nets. These salmon have never been allowed to be landed or sold by the pollock fishery but, when feasible, they are donated to local Alaska food banks.
    • The North Pacific Fishery Management Council implemented measures in 2011 to increase incentives for fishermen to further reduce Chinook salmon 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 improved the management of Chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea by creating a comprehensive salmon bycatch avoidance program in 2016, and continues to examine additional measures to minimize salmon bycatch.

The Science

Population Status

  • The 2017 stock assessments for the Aleutian Islands, Eastern Bering Sea, and Western/Central/West Yakutat Gulf of Alaska indicate that pollock stocks are not overfished.
  • In the eastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, pollock spawning biomass is estimated to be above the target level.
  • 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.
  • The overfished status for the Bogoslof and Southeast Gulf of Alaska stocks is unknown. These areas are also closed to fishing for pollock with trawl gear.
  • No stocks are currently subject to overfishing.

 

Location

  • Alaska pollock are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean but are most common in the Bering Sea.

Habitat

  • 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.  

Physical Description

  • Pollock is a member of the cod family.
  • They can grow as long as 3 feet but typically reach lengths between 12 and 20 inches and weigh between 1 and 3 pounds.
  • They have speckled coloring that helps them blend in with the seafloor to avoid predators.

Biology

  • Alaska pollock grow fast and have a relatively short life span of about 12 years.
  • As a result, they are generally more productive compared to slower growing, longer living species.
  • Some pollock begin 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 large 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.
  • Many other species—including Steller sea lions and other marine mammals, fish, and seabirds—feed on pollock and rely on them for survival.

Research

  • Young pollock survival better than expected during most recent Bering Sea warm phase.
  • 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 2 years to estimate the abundance of pollock living off the bottom.
  • In the Gulf of Alaska, scientists conduct acoustic trawl surveys on spawning grounds every winter and bottom trawl surveys and acoustic trawl surveys every other summer.
  • The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also surveys nearshore bottom areas using trawls in the Gulf of Alaska (primarily to monitor crab stocks).  Data from these surveys also contribute to estimating pollock abundance.
  • 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 to make other management decisions.

Last updated: 09/19/2018