Fish Feature

A Rollercoaster of Demand for Atlantic Pollock

A school of pollock swim through a kelp forest atop the highest peak on Cashes Ledge, Ammen Rock. Photo credit: Brian Skerry/NEOO.

Last week, we featured a shark, and before that, a pretty little rosefish. But today, we have a real fish’s fish for you – a greenish, scaly, schooling creature with barbels and a classic fishy silhouette – the Atlantic pollock.

You are probably very familiar with this fish’s close relative, the cod, and you may even know about the Alaskan pollock – one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. But have you ever heard of the Atlantic pollock?

To be even more specific, we’re talking about Pollachius virens, the species of pollock living in the Northwestern Atlantic (not to be confused with Pollachius pollachius, the Eastern Atlantic species). These guys are most common on the western Scotian Shelf, on Georges Bank, and in the Gulf of Maine (see map). Juveniles feed on crustaceans and small fish, while adults feed primarily on other fish. They may grow up to 3.5 feet long and live up to 23 years.

Ignored, Overfished, and then Ignored Once Again

Pollachius virens range. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.

Pollachius virens range. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.

Before the 1980s, Atlantic pollock were primarily harvested as bycatch. However, demand grew steadily, peaking in 1986. By 1994, the stock crashed due to overfishing. Strict management regulations were quickly put in place, and the population rebounded. By 2010, the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine pollock stocks were 115% above target population levels. Today, the species is managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.

Much like the Acadian redfish and Atlantic spiny dogfish, the recovery of this species was a mega management victory. But the ecological recovery of Atlantic pollock came at a price – while the stocks were rebuilding, the Atlantic pollock fishery was largely ignored. So much so that even today, it is an afterthought compared to the Gulf of Maine cod, haddock, and flounder fisheries.

In 2014, only 26% of the potential harvest was actually caught. Why are we heavily overfishing some fish populations, while ignoring healthy Atlantic pollock stocks? Because there isn’t demand for Atlantic pollock – at least, not yet. As with three of our previously featured underutilized species (silver hake, Acadian redfish, and Atlantic spiny dogfish), the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue campaign is working to create consumer support for sustainable seafood, as well as incentivize restaurants to use these underappreciated species. Check out their Seafood Dining Series to sample local, responsibly harvested seafood masterpieces, or try whipping up some Atlantic pollock for yourself with these cooking tips!

Bon Appétit!

While landings peak from November to January, Atlantic pollock are typically available year-round. They’re very low in saturated fat and are a great source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. You can find them as whole, as fillets, and as fresh, frozen, or smoked steaks – but make sure you’re buying Atlantic pollock, not Alaskan pollock, for a local meal! The Alaskan pollock fishery is well-managed and stocks are not overfished, but eating fish from the Pacific won’t help incentivize Gulf of Maine fishermen to harvest underutilized species. We need to build a demand for sustainable seafood from our own backyard!

The firm, white meat of Alantic pollock has a sweet, delicate flavor and is great for dishes such as Atlantic pollock in cartoccio with preserved blood orange (basically an easy, delicious, fancy fish cooked in a bag). Or if you’re a fish sandwich kind of person, you could try an island spiced pollock sandwich with sautéed spinach, tomato, avocado and cherry pepper aioli. Yum!

Hungry yet? What are you waiting for? Make room for Atlantic Pollock!


Comments

2 Responses to A Rollercoaster of Demand for Atlantic Pollock

  • Dean says:

    I’ve heard of cod, but never heard of pollock. Glad to hear that they numbers have recovered. They sound delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  • Dave D says:

    We used to catch giant pollock (36 inches+) in the month of June between Block Island and the RI mainland. No one has spoken of this fishery in years. Wonder if the fish are still there

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