Alaskan Pollock: A Fish True to Its Name

Created on Monday, 28 March 2016

NOAA Photo Library_David Csepp NOAA_NMFS_AFSC

Last December, President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion congressional spending bill, which included a stipulation that changes the legal market name of “Alaskan pollock” to just “pollock”. Prior to this ruling, businesses were allowed to label Gadus chalcogrammus as “Alaskan pollock” even if it was harvested outside of Alaska’s state waters or the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski championed the legislation (with support from the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers) explaining the importance of the name change for both the U.S. fishing industry and consumers:

“Alaska is the gold standard of fish management. It is disingenuous and harmful to our fishing industry for Russian-harvested pollock to be passed off as Alaskan. Now consumers can be confident that pollock labeled as “Alaskan” is caught only in our state’s healthy, sustainable waters.” – Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski

Alaska’s waters are home to some of the most productive and successfully managed commercial fisheries in the world, producing more than half of the seafood commercially harvested in the United States and representing about one third of the value of commercially harvested domestic seafood. The Alaskan pollock fishery is the state’s largest wild fishery by volume, with an annual value surpassing $700 million. Wanting to protect the integrity and value of the fishery, Alaskan pollock fishermen and processors wanted market differentiation between Alaskan-caught pollock and imported pollock caught in foreign waters.

Between 30 and 45% of the pollock consumed in the U.S. is caught and imported from Russia , which does not manage its pollock fisheries to the same standards as the United States. According to the FDA’s Principles for Determining Acceptable Market Names, acceptable market names for seafood must not be false or misleading, including using a name that implies the seafood is from a unique geographical region. However, until the recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) name change, pollock caught in Russian waters and imported into the U.S. could legally be labeled at the end point of sale as ‘Alaskan pollock.’ Where decades of precautionary, science-based limits have allowed Alaska to distinguish itself as a worldwide leader in responsible and sustainable fisheries management, Russian fisheries have suffered from boom and bust cycles due to overfishing and illegal fishing. Alaska has also established marine protected areas, bycatch mitigation plans, and 100% observer coverage on pollock vessels – additional measures that set the domestic Alaskan pollock industry apart.

The next step, said Pat Shanahan, Program Director for the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, will be to”seek changes in EU labeling requirements so that superior quality, sustainably managed Alaska pollock is transparently identified in one of our largest export markets.”

FishWise will continue to update our blog with FDA seafood labeling changes as they occur. Additional resources to help you determine or verify acceptable market names for seafood can be found here, while the entire FDA Seafood List can be found here.