When it comes to consumer purchases, sustainably harvested pollock from Alaska has had an upstream journey. For years the market name, “Alaska pollock,” led to a conflated market with fishes sourced from other countries also being lumped under the same name. Customers shopping for both personal and commercial purposes could mistake these imported fish for domestic catches because they bore the name “Alaska pollock.”
“Alaska pollock has been an anomaly on that [FDA seafood] list in that the name, ‘Alaska pollock,’ was a reference to the species name and not necessarily to the location where the fish was harvested and/or processed,” says Pat Shanahan, program director of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP), a nonprofit promoting Alaska-harvested pollock. “There’s pollock that comes into the United States, primarily from Russia … Japan and Korea, so all that fish—no matter where the source was—they were able to call it ‘Alaska pollock.’”
But in the midst of a politically divisive year, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to distinguish the different sources of pollock. Under the new law, which was enacted in January, the market name is now “pollock” rather than “Alaska pollock.” The law also requires that “Alaska” as a descriptor only be employed when the fish was harvested in that state.
According to raw data from the National Marine Fisheries Service, pollock is the fifth most consumed species by pound in the U.S. In terms of domestic production, Alaska-sourced pollock represents 30 percent of all wild fish harvest—some 1.3 million metric tons. But despite this popularity, pollock was unique in its misleading label.
“Other species from Alaska didn’t have this issue. So if a consumer went in and saw ‘Alaska pollock’ on a menu along with Alaska salmon, Alaska halibut, and Alaska crab, all those other products would be from Alaska, but the Alaska pollock might not be from Alaska. We just wanted to get that straightened out,” Shanahan says.
She adds that most large operators that source Genuine Alaska Pollock were already familiar with the misnomer because they had educated themselves. The individual buyers, however, were less informed.
In addition to clarifying the fish’s origin, the new law also helps Alaska producers ensure better quality control. Prior to the law’s passage, if consumers had poor-quality fish that was imported but labeled as “Alaska pollock,” they might assume that pollock from Alaska was of an inferior caliber.
This legislation also comes at a time when more operators have begun to label pollock on their menus rather than referring to it as a generic whitefish.
“The opportunity, I think now for restaurants, is to be able to say, ‘We have Alaska pollock and it’s really from Alaska,’” Shanahan says. “What we’re seeing is there are a lot more companies willing to put the name of the species on their promotions and identify it as Alaska pollock rather than just calling it fish or whitefish, and we know from the research it’s a much better way to sell to consumers because they want to know what fish they’re eating.”
By Nicole Duncan