The National Marine Fisheries Service has posted its draft assessment of the eastern Bering Sea pollock stock, and it indicates we could see a big increase in the commercial catch limit for 2011.
Scientists recommend an "acceptable biological catch" of 1.267 million metric tons. They project a 2012 ABC of 1.595 million tons.
Regulators often set the annual commercial harvest limit — what's known as the total allowable catch — at the same level as the ABC.
For this year, the ABC and the TAC were identical at 813,000 tons.
So, a TAC of 1.267 million tons for next year would be a nearly 56 percent increase!
How can this be?
Well, among other factors, the scientists say their at-sea surveys this year yielded better than expected pollock biomass estimates. See page 2 of the draft assessment for a quick summary.
This news is bound to relieve the pollock industry, which has lived with poor catch limits the past three years.
But critics of how the pollock fishery is managed likely will be alarmed at the prospect of a larger commercial catch.
Pollock is the largest U.S. fishery by weight, and one of the most lucrative. The lanky bottom fish are used for a variety of familiar products such as fish sticks, the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich and imitation crab meat.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes next month in Anchorage to consider the data and recommend a 2011 pollock TAC to the commerce secretary, who has final say.