Pollock Numbers Remain Low In New Assessment | Oceana

Pollock Numbers Remain Low In New Assessment

Press Release Date: November 18, 2009

Location: Seattle, WA


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

In a new assessment, scientists found that Bering Sea pollock numbers are not rebounding as expected and continue to be below historic levels. 


The scientists recommended a maximum catch limit of 813,000 metric tons for 2010, which is slightly lower than last years record low catch recommendation. 


Oceana called for more precautionary catches of around 500,000 metric tons in order to limit catches on young pollock that have not had a chance to spawn.  With no dramatic change in pollock levels, Oceana continues to press for stronger protections to reduce the likelihood of a future collapse of pollock stocks or crossing management thresholds which force the fishery to shut down.  Both would have catastrophic impacts both economically and ecologically for the region.


A principle cause of concern both of Oceana and scientists at the meeting was the lower than expected amount of 3 year old pollock in this year’s surveys.  Also of concern was the fishery’s increasing catches of young fish before they can spawn.


“The Fisheries Service is putting a lot of faith in the pollock population model, even though there is great uncertainty as to how the population will recover from these low levels,” said Warrenchuk.  “There’s a lot of reliance on virtual fish.” 


The Eastern Bering Sea pollock stock has declined rapidly.  The spawning biomass of females has dropped by almost 60% since 2004.  This represents a serious threat to the future health of the pollock stock, as there is no buffer in the stock for climate anomalies that affect pollock survival.  The hope for recovery still rests with the successful recruitment of a single large year class in 2006, which is the only average or above average year class in the last six years.  If the appearance of this year class is disappointing, the entire population will be in serious trouble, and with the greater uncertainty brought on by climate change, the appearance of this 2006 class should not be taken for granted.


Pollock are central to the health of the Bering Sea.  They are a critical part of the food web and an important food source for endangered Steller sea lions, fur seals, salmon, halibut, seabirds and other animals.  The low pollock numbers will have impacts on other marine animals, local economies and the health of the Eastern Bering Sea marine ecosystem.    


“We need to keep fishing low and slow to make sure pollock has the best chance to start recovering,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Ocean Scientist for Oceana.  “Pollock is central to the Bering Sea food web, and the pollock stock is a climate hiccup away from being in serious trouble.”


The Bering Sea is a vibrant ocean ecosystems that is home to 26 species of marine mammals, including the critically endangered northern right whale; millions of seabirds hailing from all seven continents; more than 450 species of fish; and some of the world’s largest submarine canyons.


The Alaskan pollock fishery is one of the largest fisheries in the world.  Pollock is commonly used in imitation crab meat and is also the primary ingredient in fish sticks and many fast-food fish sandwiches.


The scientists’ recommendations will be considered when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council sets the 2010 pollock catch levels at a meeting in December in Anchorage.