Pollock, Alaska, Walleye

Theragra chalcogramma

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Pacific (FAO 67)
Stock area — Alaska
Stock detail — Gulf of Alaska
Picture of Pollock, Alaska, Walleye

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Alaskan pollock is both the largest food fish resource and largest whitefish fishery in the world. Over 1.426 million tons were landed in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, worth about $400 million. Stocks in Alaskan waters (Gulf of Alaska (GOA), Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI)) are managed by a system of Total Allowable Catches and seasonal quotas, set by US North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC). Together the Barents Sea cod fishery and the Russian Far East (Western Bering Sea and Sea of Okhotsk), pollock fishery account for between 20 and 25% of the global catch of whitefish.

The U.S. BSAI and Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery are not overfished and not undergoing overfishing. They are well managed by a system of Total Allowable Catches and individual vessel quotas. Although bycatch is very low in pelagic mid-water trawl fisheries in general, measures are continually being developed and analysed for this fishery to reduce the impact of the fishery on other species (Protected species such as Steller sea lion, salmon and crab). The Gulf of Alaska Pollock fishery is the best choice. If choosing from fisheries in Russia, choose the Marine Stewardship Council certified pollock.

Biology

A member of the cod family, Alaska pollock is found throughout temperate and colder waters of the north Pacific and is the most abundant fish species in the Bering Sea, including areas under U.S. fisheries management jurisdiction. It is a relatively fast growing and short lived species and is sexually mature at around 3-4 years. Pollock have high fecundity or potential reproductive capacity - female pollock can produce more than two million eggs over the course of several weeks. It spawns in early spring from February to April and they can grow to about 90 cm and attain ages of 15-17 years. A more typical age is 5-6. Found in depths down to 900 m the species is also known as walleye pollock because of its large, distinctive eyes.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Stock Area

Alaska

Stock information

Gulf of Alaska Pollock are not overfished or undergoing overfishing. The B/BMSY is 1.44. However, there are some signs of concern e.g. very low recruitment. Fishing mortality is at a healthy level and has been reduced to account for the recent low levels of recruitment.

Management

Criterion score: 0 info

The pollock fishery in the Gulf of Alaska is managed under the Gulf of Alaska groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). This plan covers and manages a variety of groundfish fisheries and also considers the management of bycatch and the ecosystem. The FMP employs a suite of management measures, including a total allowable catch (TAC), all pollock must be retained and processed, individual vessel quotas, seasonal closures. Regular stock assessments are conducted, which incorporate a variety of fishery-dependent and independent data. There is also a high level of observer coverage and record keeping. Vessels fishing for pollock require a Federal groundfish license.

There is generally a low level of bycatch in Gulf of Alaska Pollock fisheries and therefore, little bycatch management is required. However, prohibited species are listed in the FMP and must be avoided. If they are caught, they must be returned safely to the water, unless otherwise specified. If they are permitted to be retained when caught, there are strict limits and monitoring in place to reduce the impact to the species.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Bycatch
The pollock fishery is selective. Non-target species (e.g.grenadiers) represent less than 1% of the total pollock catch and discards are also low. The target species may include arrowtooth flounder, Pacific cod, flathead sole, shallow-water flatfish, squid, and Pacific ocean perch, but these are included in Fishery Management Plans.

NOAA’s 2018 fishery List of Fisheries considers that the Dall’s porpoise, Fin whale, Northern elephant seal and Steller sea lion interact with the fishery. However the pollock is designated as a category III fishery which means there is a “remote likelihood of or no known incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals”.

Chinook Salmon
Chinook salmon are of particular concern because they compromise the largest proportion of bycatch in the GOA fishery. There is now a cap of 25,000 Chinook salmon which can be caught in the pollock fishery each year. Therefore, further measures to reduce salmon bycatch were developed in April 2015 which included more severe Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limits when Alaskan Chinook salmon abundance is low, reducing fishing when bycatch is higher and mandating the use of salmon excluders in trawl nets. There are also real-time spatial and temporal closures. Chinook bycatch in 2015 was about half of the 2003-2015 average - which is likely due to the recently implemented management.

Shark bycatch has reduced but their incidental capture in the pollock fishery is still considered as an issue for the ecosystem. There are limits of Shark bycatch has averaged 171 t since 1997 and is counted against annual catch limits. Steller’s sea lions have been the subject of much controversy between environmentalists and fishermen. The most recent Gulf of Alaska stock assessment states that the competition for pollock from predators is unappreciated. To reduce competition for resources, large near-shore areas around the sea lion rookeries of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska are now off-limits to trawling. These measures to protect sea lions have proven effective in a number of areas, but recently a small segment of the Steller sea lion population in the western Aleutian Islands was failing to recover at expected rates hence more fishery closures in that region have been enacted. Due to increasing populations in, the eastern segment, the Eastern population is now no longer listed as threatened.

Habitat
Mid-water trawls generally pose a low risk to the seabed because they fish above the seafloor. Some occuasional interactions may occur, however, these impacts are thought to be minimal.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

Bowen, D., Rice, J., Trumble, R.J., 2016. MSC Public Certification Report for Alaska Pollock Fishery Gulf of Alaska.

Bowen, D., Rice, J., Trumble, R.J. 2017. MSC 2nd Annual Surveillance Report Remote Surveillance for Alaska Pollock Fishery Gulf of Alaska.

NOAA. 2018. North Pacific Observer Program. Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/fisheries-observers/north-pacific-observer-program

NOAA. 2018. Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division History. Available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/alaska/fisheries-observers/fisheries-monitoring-and-analysis-division-history

Alaska Marine Conservation council. 2018. Fishery Observer Program. Available at: http://www.akmarine.org/tag/fishery-observer-program/

NOAA. 2018. List of Fisheries. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/07/2018-02442/list-of-fisheries-for-2018

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2017. FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLAN for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska. Available at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/02/07/2018-02442/list-of-fisheries-for-2018

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2015. Walleye Pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) . Available at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=walleyepollock.management. [Accessed on 15.08.2018].

Dorn, M., Aydin, K., Fissel, B., Jones, D., McCarthy, A., Palsson, W., Spalinger, K., 2017. Chapter 1: Assessment of the Walleye Pollock Stock in the Gulf of Alaska. Kodiak, AK. Available at: https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/REFM/Docs/2017/GOApollock.pdf.