Pollock harvest lowest in 32 years

Conservation groups say further protection was needed for fish

Posted: Sunday, December 20, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Federal fisheries managers have set the allowable catch for pollock at 813,000 metric tons for 2010, the lowest in 32 years for the multi-million dollar fishery.

The limit reflected the maximum recommendation made by scientists earlier this year, based on historical low numbers of spawning pollock in the Bering Sea.

The action came Dec. 12 during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage.

Alaska pollock is commonly used in imitation crabmeat and also is a primary ingredient in fish sticks and many fast food restaurant fish sandwiches.

For 2009, the federal council set the allowable catch of this groundfish fishery at what was then a new record low of 815,000 metric tons. The highest quota ever set was 1.34 million metric tons in 1989.

Industry spokesmen said they did not expect the marginally lower allowable harvest for the coming year to boost prices, because of other whitefish competing on world markets.

However, spokesmen for environmental groups Oceana and Greenpeace said further protection was needed for pollock, a critical part of the food web in the ocean ecosystem and an important food source for Steller sea lions, fur seals, salmon, halibut, seabirds and other animals.

"We need to keep fishing low and slow to make sure pollock has the best chance to start recovering," Jon Warrenchuk, an ocean scientist with Oceana, told the federal council. "The pollock stock is a climate hiccup away from being in serious trouble."

George Pletnikoff, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace in Anchorage, called for substantial reductions in the allowable catch, suspension of the roe fishery and establishment of marine reserves, steps he said would help reverse the decline of Bering Sea pollock stocks.

The federal council also set harvest levels for more than a dozen other groundfish specials, including Pacific cod and Yellowfin sole, for a total of nearly 1.6 million metric tons, down slightly from 2009.

The allowable harvest of Pacific cod was set at 168,780 metric tons, down from 176,540 metric tons in 2009, while the Yellowfin sole harvest was raised from 210,000 metric tons in 2009 to 219,000 metric tons in 2010.

In the Gulf of Alaska, the overall groundifsh harvest was set at 294,644 metric tons, up from 242,727 metric tons this year. The pollock harvest was set at 84,745 metric tons, up from 49,900 metric tons this year. The Pacific cod harvest limit was set at 59,563 metric tons, up from 41,807 metric tons in 2009, and sablefish harvests were limited to 10,370 metric tons, down slightly from 11,160 metric tons this year.

In other issues, the council took final action on Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod allocations to various sectors of the fishery.

The council noted that the limited access derby-style management of the western and central gulf Pacific cod fisheries has led to competition among various gear types, as well as catcher processor and catcher vessels, for shares of the total allowable catch.

Competition for gulf Pacific cod has increased for a variety of reasons, ranging from increased market value of cod products to privatizing of other fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska, and this competition may contribute to higher rates of bycatch, discards and out-of-season incidental catch of Pacific cod, the council said in its motion.

To reduce uncertainty and contribute to stability across the sectors, and to promote sustainable fishing practices and facilitate management measures, the western and central gulf Pacific cod allowable harvests should be divided among sectors, the council said.

The council also refined alternatives for analysis under the Gulf of Alaska rockfish program, took final action on salmon bycatch data collection, and moved forward with the review process on Bering Sea crab and groundfish management issues.

The council is schedule to meet next in Portland, Ore., the week of Feb. 8, followed by a meeting in Anchorage the week of April 6.

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