FDA: only Alaska pollock is 'Alaska pollock'

Alaska pollock is having a good 2016 so far, with boosted quotas, favorable certifications, and a federal rule that will give Alaska an edge over Russia.

“I have long fought to resolve this issue, and I am thrilled that this change has been made to protect both our fisheries and consumers,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “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.

Pollock is the largest fishery in the U.S., producing 2.9 billions pounds and accounting for 11 percent of U.S. seafood intake. In the North Pacific management region, pollock accounted for $406 million worth of landings.

The pollock season began Jan. 20 with an increased quota of 1.34 million metric tons, thanks to a December 2015 North Pacific Fishery Management Council aimed at curbing halibut bycatch in other groundfish sectors. This is 30,000 metric tons more than the year before.

With more fish to catch and sell, Congress has now made Alaska’s highest volume fishery easier to market.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put a change to seafood labeling laws in its Seafood List, ending an Alaska congressional fight to ensure that “Alaska pollock” is actually from Alaska.

The FDA announced Jan. 21 that only pollock caught in Alaska waters can be labeled "Alaska pollock." Alaska waters are defined the Alaska-adjacent Exclusive Economic Zone three to 200 miles offshore, according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs U.S. federal fisheries.

The Pacific Northwest had been pushing for the change in 2015.

In Congress, Rep. Don Young and Rep. Jaime Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation on Oct. 22 to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to change the term “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.”

Meanwhile, Murkowski added a mandate in the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill to force the FDA to make the change. The bill passed.

Pollock nomenclature has an important economic impact in Alaska as the state’s largest fishery by volume and a key foreign export. The “Alaska” label signifies sustainability in marketing campaigns.

According to a GMA Research consumer report, up to 40 percent of what is currently sold as “Alaska pollock” is in fact from Russia waters, which do not have the same controls and management frameworks as U.S. North Pacific fisheries governed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, particularly concerning marine habitat protections and preventing overfishing.

The U.S. pollock industry received another year of sustainable fisheries certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC. Pollock has received the certification since 2005.

"The MSC’s vision is for oceans to be teeming with life for future generations,” said Brian Perkins, MSC regional director, in a release. “Alaska Pollock has successfully created and maintained new markets, especially in the U.S. and Europe, over the past decade. We are extremely pleased to see this fishery succeed in the MSC process yet again.”

The MSC charges companies for its sustainability rating. European countries in particular prize the certification, and much of the seafood on the European market cannot move without it. Aside from U.S. consumption, Alaska pollock is a European favorite, particularly in Germany where it is the most-consumed fish in the nation.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Updated: 
01/21/2016 - 11:00am

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