2015 Assessment of the Pollock Stock in the Aleutian Islands
Walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus; Coulson et al. 2006; Carr and Marshall 2008; here after pollock) are distributed throughout the Aleutian Islands (AI) with concentrations in areas and depths dependent on diel and seasonal migration. The population of pollock in the AI incurred an apparent drop in abundance from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s (1986 bottom trawl survey estimate of 444,000 t to a 1994 bottom trawl survey estimate of 78,000 t). Since 1994 the abundance point estimate has been variable, but considering the variance of the survey estimates the trend appears relatively flat (Fig 1A.1). The 2012 survey abundance was a record low at 44,281 t. The 2014 survey abundance estimate at 85,316 t nearly doubled the 2012 estimate. The low 2012 estimate is thought to be anomalous due to the very low temperatures in the region affecting availability of the species to the bottom trawl survey. The precipitous decline between 1986 and 1991 may be in part due to undocumented fishing by foreign vessels claiming catch from the Central Bering Sea (CBS), as the documented fishing levels alone cannot account for the decline (Table 1A.1). A number of foreign fishing vessels were observed fishing in the AI during this time period (Egan 1988a; Egan 1988b) while claiming catch from the CBS. The most recent surveys show that the AI pollock population is predominantly concentrated in the eastern portion of the Aleutian Island chain, closer to the Eastern Bering Sea shelf. Surveys from the 1980’s and 1990’s estimated higher proportions of pollock biomass in the central and western Aleutians (Fig 1A.1). This recent spatial change in population abundance may reflect a spatial contraction of the stock in the Eastern Bering Sea after the collapse of the Central Bering Sea population in the early 1990’s, low AI pollock recruitments since the mid 1980’s, documented higher exploitation rate of the AI pollock in the mid- to late 1990’s, and possibly a high undocumented exploitation rate in the late 1980’s by foreign fishers.
The degree of independence of the Aleutian Islands pollock from pollock of other areas is not well understood. Bailey et al. (1999) presented a review of the meta-population structure of pollock throughout the north Pacific region identifying possible meta-populations in the Eastern Bering Sea, but little data from the Aleutian Islands region were available at the time and therefore his population model doesn’t consider these fish. Recent genetic studies, which included samples from the Aleutian Islands near Adak Island, have shown a lack of genetic heterogeneity among Northeast Pacific and Bering Sea pollock that could be used for stock definition (Grant et al. 2010). Grant et al. (2006) found and later confirmed (Grant et al. 2010) the greatest genetic differences occurred between samples from Asia and the Eastern North Pacific with mirror-image haplogroup clines between them. Grant et al. (2010) interpreted that the genetic differences across the Pacific Ocean and mirror-image haplogroup clines likely reflect divergence during ice-age isolations and subsequent expansion into the central North Pacific on each side with gene flow across the contact zone. The pollock in the AI therefore are most likely a mixed population from both Asian and North American and the result of re-colonization from both sides of the Pacific post ice-age.