Since the U.S. established a 200-mile fishing zone in 1976, pollock harvests have averaged 2.5 billion pounds annually on a sustainable basis. APA catcher/processors fish for Alaska pollock in U.S. waters of the Bering Sea. This fishery alone accounts for almost one-third of all U.S. seafood landings by weight. APA vessels do not participate in the much smaller Alaska pollock fishery conducted in the Gulf of Alaska.
The pollock resource in U.S. waters off Alaska remains abundant and robust, and both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries have been certified by an international team of scientists as sustainable and responsibly managed under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) program. See www.msc.org.
The large continental shelf off Alaska’s coast and the favorable ocean currents extant in the region provide a rich mix of nutrients to sustain large populations of Alaska pollock and other groundfish species. Conservative management ensures that these important fish stocks are sustainably managed.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, conducts trawl surveys annually and hydro-acoustic surveys at least triennially to assess the abundance of pollock and other North Pacific groundfish species. The survey results, and other relevant data and information, form the basis for estimates of pollock abundance and determinations of the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) level, which indicates the amount of fish that can be harvested on a sustainable basis. Where there is uncertainty due to lack of data, fishery scientists and managers employ a precautionary approach, which requires managers to act conservatively when there is uncertainty. To ensure that a broad range of scientific views are taken into account, NMFS scientists work closely with state and university scientists. See www.afsc.noaa.gov.
Based on the fish population models developed by NMFS, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is advised by its scientific panel, recommends the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) level. The TAC is set at, or below, the ABC level. All fish harvested, whether processed at-sea or onshore, is weighed to ensure an accurate catch accounting. All fish caught counts against the quota for that species. Fisheries close when the allotted harvest level is reached. See www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/.
Every pollock catcher/processor vessel carries onboard two federal fishery observers to monitor and record catches and to conduct scientific research. The observers are trained and certified by NMFS, and they sample 99% of pollock tows by catcher/processor vessels. All pollock cather vesselsalso carry an observer. The fishing industry pays the cost of observer coverage. The North Pacific groundfish observer program is the most comprehensive fishery observer program in the nation.
Pollock vessels tow cone-shaped, mid-water trawl nets to harvest the resource. Pollock swim in enormously large schools above the ocean floor. The fishing nets do not drag along the ocean bottom. In fact, federal regulations prohibit “bottom trawling” for pollock.
Bycatch is defined in U.S. fisheries law as fish that are harvested but discarded either for economic or regulatory reasons. For U.S. pollock catcher/processors, pollock comprises almost 99 percent of what is caught in the net. Of the species allowed by law to be retained, much of it is also processed. The pollock catcher/processor fleet annual discard rate of approximately 0.5% of the total catch compares very favorably with the average bycatch (or discard) rate for world fisheries of 25%.
Federal regulations require that all pollock and Pacific cod be retained regardless of the groundfish species being targeted. Pollock processors produce fillets, surimi, and roe. Many U.S. pollock processors also make fishmeal from inedible portions of the fish and fish oil, which is burned as fuel in boilers on the vessel to provide a cleaner energy source.
Pollock fishermen formed fish harvesting cooperatives to “rationalize” fishing activities, including resolving problems of overcapacity, promoting conservation and enhancing utilization of fishery resources. Under a co-op arrangement, fewer vessels are fishing and daily catch rates by participating vessels are significantly reduced since the “race for fish” ended in 1999. In the past several years, catcher/processors also increased the amount of products produced from each pound of pollock by almost 50 percent.