Pollock on a Pedestal
To most consumers, it’s known as “whitefish,” or simply “fish.” However, for most seafood producers, it’s an irreplaceable global commodity. And to some environmentalists, it’s an easy target.
The U.S. Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery late last week entered assessment for recertification under the Marine Stewardship Council program. Recertifying the fishery as well managed and sustainable won’t come without a boatload of opposition from the environmental camp, particularly Greenpeace, which late last year aired TV spots in Alaska and the Seattle area calling for an end to pollock overfishing.
Alaska’s pollock fishery is an easy target due simply to its size — it’s the world’s largest whitefish fishery, yielding a mind-boggling 1.5 million metric tons as recently as 2006 and representing about 40 percent of total U.S. seafood landings.
But the 18.5 percent cut in this year’s quota, to 815,000 metric tons, nearly 700,000 metric tons less than the 2006 harvest, is sure to be the core of the environmental camp’s argument that Alaska’s pollock fishery not be recertified.
But environmentally-conscious seafood buyers needn’t lose sight of the fact that the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish biomass measures 20 million metric tons, more than 10 times the annual pollock and cod catch; that the pollock quota dipped under 980,000 metric tons in 1999, only to rebound to 1.5 million metric tons by 2006; and that scientists are projecting the pollock biomass to grow by as much as 51 percent next year.
Despite the best efforts of environmental activists like Greenpeace to convince seafood buyers and the public that it’s just too big to be deemed sustainable, Alaska’s pollock fishery is bound to be recertified under the MSC program. When it comes to judging the merits of a fishery, size shouldn’t matter.