ANCHORAGE - Federal regulators have advised cutting the pollock catch.
The 11-member North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which regulates commercial fishing off Alaska, voted unanimously on Saturday to limit next year's catch to 815,000 metric tons. That's an 18.5 percent reduction from last year.
The catch limit is the lowest in three decades.
Environmental group Oceana and Greepeace had wanted deeper cuts. They contend that the commercial fishing fleet is putting too much pressure on pollock and other animals are being deprived of an important food source, including sea lions.
Doug Mecum, a council member and the Commerce Department's top fishery regulator in Alaska, said he was comfortable setting the pollock limit at 815,000 tons based on the work of federal scientists who monitor the pollock population.
Fishery biologists believe a large group of young fish are on track to survive to harvestable size, which could support an increase in the catch limit in 2010, Mecum said.
Environmental activists had urged a much smaller catch limit of 458,000 tons, or less than half what the fleet netted this year. They said their review of the federal science found weaknesses in the pollock stock that could lead to a collapse, depending on climate change. They also said fishery scientists seem to be putting too much faith in young fish reaching adulthood.
"To us, this is a time when you need to be extra cautious because there's not a lot of insurance," said Chris Krenz, who works for Oceana and holds a doctorate in marine ecology.
Council members, however, said they believe the catch limits the federal scientists recommend are amply precautionary.
John Henderschedt, a council member and employee of Seattle-based pollock fishing company Premier Pacific Seafoods, said the industry had hoped the cut would not be so steep. But he said he had no problem voting to support the 815,000-ton limit the scientists recommended.
Henderschedt said a lower Alaska pollock catch could serve to maintain the current high wholesale prices for goods made from pollock, chiefly fillets and a protein paste called surimi.