Consistency seems to be the key word when characterizing the pollock market. Although the numbers fluctuate slightly from year to year, the total allowable catch (TAC) for this popular whitefish has averaged about 1.2 million metric tons for the past 35 years.
The 2012 TAC was 1.22 million metric tons and should be similar going into 2013, adds Pat Shanahan, program director of the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP), based in Seattle, although the actual number won’t be determined until December.
Alaska pollock makes its home in the Pacific, as well as the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The main product coming out of Alaska is fillet blocks, says Shanahan. Between 55 percent and 60 percent of the fillet blocks are exported, with about 80 percent of that total going to Europe.
Pollock for surimi is also a major export, with both Japan and Europe as major customers. All of the pollock roe is exported, she adds, most to Japan, with some going to Korea. The remainder of the pollock harvest is used for IQF fillets and H&G fish, the latter going to China for reprocessing.
Russia is the other major source of pollock and in 2011 the United States imported about 2 million pounds of pollock, mostly in frozen fillet blocks. Canada also supplied the United States, coming in with about 1.3 million pounds, though primarily as fresh or salted whole product.
In April during the European Seafood Exposition, the Russian Pollock Catchers Association (PCA) announced the formation of the Russian Pollock Sustainability Alliance to advance the development of that country’s pollock fisheries. As part of that move, the PCA is seeking Marine Stewardship Council certification for its fisheries in the Sea of Okhotsk and the West Bering Sea.
Shanahan isn’t surprised that the Russians are seeking MSC certification — something the Alaska fishery already holds. Even if the Russian fishery is certified, she says there are still differences between the products they bring to market, with Alaska pollock being once frozen versus the twice-frozen product offered through Russia.