Alaska pollock catch surges despite world decline

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's pollock fishery is still going strong, despite a decline in world pollock harvests.

Fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska Anchorage says the world harvest of pollock has fallen to about one-third of what it was in the late 1980s, but the Alaska harvest has surged over the last three years.

While other parts of the world, particularly Russia, have seen stocks of pollock and comparable whitefish decline sharply because of overfishing, the eastern Bering Sea continues to sustain both rich pollock stocks and a massive commercial fishery.

The Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries open Saturday.

Processing plants will extract three main products from the fish -- fast-food fillets, a versatile fish paste called surimi and roe or fish eggs.

The annual wholesale value of those products was about $800 million in 2000, up substantially from 1998 but still short of the more than $900 million in 1991, Knapp said at a fisheries research forum in Anchorage.

This year, the Alaska fishery has a catch limit of more than 3.4 billion pounds of the fish, the vast majority of which come from the Bering Sea.

The increased catch is based on government surveys of pollock abundance. In recent years, the number of adult fish has grown, supporting a bigger harvest, federal biologists say.

In contrast, pollock catches in Russian waters have declined sharply over the past few years, and officials there have cut this year's quota by nearly half, to about 2 billion pounds.

Knapp cautions that information both on catches and on value of pollock is scattered and difficult to compile.

''Very few people have a comprehensive understanding of pollock markets,'' he said.

Much good data exists, but you need to know Russian or Japanese to understand it, Knapp said.

Even though Alaska pollock is the largest U.S. fishery -- it accounted for about 29 percent of all U.S. fish landings in 2000 -- historically the United States has not been the world's biggest pollock-harvesting nation, Knapp said. Until recently, catches from Russian and international waters far exceeded the U.S. catch.

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