About the Species
Alaska pollock—also known as walleye pollock—is a key species in the Alaska groundfish complex and a target species for one of the world's largest fisheries. Pollock is a semipelagic schooling fish widely distributed in the North Pacific Ocean with largest concentrations in the eastern Bering Sea.
U.S. wild-caught Alaska pollock is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Above target population levels for the Aleutian Islands, Eastern Bering Sea, and Western/Central/West Yakutat Gulf of Alaska stocks. The population levels are unknown for Bogoslof and Southeast Gulf of Alaska.
At recommended levels.
The Alaska pollock fishery uses midwater trawl nets that, although sometimes making contact with the bottom, have minimal impact on habitat.
The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the cleanest in terms of incidental catch of other species (less than 1 percent).
- The 2018 stock assessments for the Aleutian Islands, Eastern Bering Sea, and Western/Central/West Yakutat Gulf of Alaska indicate that pollock stocks are not overfished and spawning biomass is estimated to be above the target level for all three stocks.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Where They Live
- Alaska pollock are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean but are most common in the Bering Sea.
- NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Alaska pollock fishery.
- Managed under the Groundfish Fishery Management Plans for the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands:
- The Alaska pollock fishery is a great example of how science-based management and monitoring can help ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource.
- The Bering Sea fishery is one of the first U.S. fisheries to be managed with catch shares and is often considered one of the best-managed fisheries in the world.
- Commercial fishery:
- The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the most valuable in the world.
- In 2018, commercial landings of Alaska pollock from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska totaled more than 3.36 billion pounds and were valued at more than $490.8 million.
- In 2017, 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 catch in the Alaska pollock fishery 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.
Recreational Fishing Regulations
Commercial Fishing Regulations
Subsistence Fishing Regulations
The United States manages pollock as five separate stocks:
- Eastern Bering Sea stock (Unimak Pass to the U.S.–Russia Convention line)
- Aleutian Islands stock (Aleutian Islands shelf region from 170 degrees W. to the U.S.–Russia Convention line)
- Central Bering Sea–Bogoslof Island stock
- Central/Western/West Yakutat stock in the Gulf of Alaska
- Southeast Outside stock in the Gulf of Alaska
The American Fisheries Act (1998) established eligibility to participate in the BSAI pollock fishery and permanent allocations of pollock quota among sectors. Community Development Quota groups are allocated 10 percent of Eastern Bering Sea pollock total allowable catch. The remaining TAC is divided up as follows:
- 50 percent to catcher vessels delivering inshore
- 40 percent to catcher/processors offshore
- 10 percent to catcher vessels delivering to motherships
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004 (PDF, 455 pages) established that the non-CDQ pollock fishery in the Aleutian Islands is fully allocated to the Aleut Corporation, for the purpose of the economic development in Adak, with a percentage allocated to vessels 60 feet or less in length overall. Since 1992, the Gulf of Alaska pollock has been allocated to reduce potential impacts on steller sea lions. In 2005, Amendment 82 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area established a framework for the management of the Aleutian Islands subarea pollock fishery.
Alaska Walleye Pollock Research in Alaska
Surveying Pollock Populations
We gather information about the number, location, and age of pollock in Alaskan waters during annual surveys using acoustic technology, midwater trawls, and bottom trawls. These data are combined with information collected by fishery observers.
Pollock in the Gulf of Alaska, eastern Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands are managed as separate stocks based on the results of genetic studies, biological characteristics, and analyses of larval drift patterns from spawning locations.
Early Life Studies
We study factors affecting young pollock survival to recruitment (when they reach a size available to the fishery at around 3 years old). These survival rates can vary dramatically from one year to the next and this affects pollock populations, posing challenges for the fishery and fishery managers. Scientists have linked these ups and downs to variability in environmental conditions during the early life of pollock.
Understanding how young pollock respond to environmental changes helps scientists understand and communicate future uncertainty in population size and hence size of eventual fishing quotas to managers, the public, and fishery stakeholders.
Age and Growth
We determine the age of individual fish to provide data for age-structured modeling of populations and continue to develop new techniques to age walleye pollock.
An Ecosystem Approach
Environmental factors affect walleye pollock populations in the Eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska. Prey availability and the number of fish, seabird, and marine mammal predators and their spatial overlap with pollock also have a large impact. Comprehensive scientific observer coverage aboard commercial fishing vessels closely monitors catch and bycatch to help gauge possible impacts of humans and the fishery on the ecosystem. Our scientists work closely with industry and managers to mitigate potential adverse impacts through a variety of conservation and management measures, and by developing appropriate gear modifications.
Each year, a comprehensive ecosystem status report on climate and fishing is compiled in Ecosystem Assessments and Report Cards. These reports are an important step towards achieving the ecosystem-based management goals of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council: to maintain predator-prey relationships, diversity, and habitat, and to monitor effects of climate change.
Assessing Past, Present, and Future Pollock Stocks
We create Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports to summarize the best available scientific information concerning the past, present, and possible future condition of stocks, marine ecosystems, and fisheries that are managed under Federal regulation, including the walleye pollock fishery. These reports provide information to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for determining annual harvest levels from each stock; documenting significant trends or changes in the resource, marine ecosystems, and fishery over time; and assessing the relative success of existing state and Federal fishery management programs.
Recent Science Blogs
Reports summarizing costs directly related to management of the Aleutian Islands Pollock fishery…
Annual reviews of cost recovery and fee payments in Alaska for the American Fisheries Act (AFA)…
Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review for Proposed Amendment 109 to the Fishery Management Plan for Gulf of Alaska Groundfish and a Proposed Regulatory Amendment - Modifications to Gulf of Alaska Pollock and Pacific Cod Seasonal Allocation
Analysis of modifications to the seasons or seasonal allocations of pollock and cod to allow the…
The eastern Bering Sea was characterized by anomalously warm conditions in 2018. Over the northern…
Data & Maps
Walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus; hereafter referred to as pollock) is a semi-pelagic schooling…
Conditions in the Gulf of Alaska were close to average in 2020...
Considerable cooling began in late December 2019 and allowed for rapid build-up of sea ice,…