US pollock harvesters in the Bering Sea may have less fish to catch in 2022, if the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) adopts the recommendations from a Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluate (SAFE) report provided by NOAA in mid-November.
The assessment recommends an acceptable biological catch (ABC) for pollock at 1.1 million metric tons, a significant drop from the 1.6 million metric tons recommended for the 2021 harvest.
Jim Ianelli, a leading National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researcher on Alaska pollock stocks and one of the assessment authors, told IntraFish the recommendations have prompted NPFMC discussions about a reduced pollock total allowable catch (TAC).
The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) uses the SAFE report to recommend the ABC to the NPFMC, which sets the TAC for harvesting companies.
The SSC is slated to meet Thursday.
The acceptable biological catch is typically significantly higher than the total allowable catch ultimately approved by the NPFMC when it adopts its recommendations.
Last year, for example, the finalized TAC of 1.375 million metric tons was 18 percent below the SSC's ABC recommendation for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.
In 2020, the finalized TAC of 1.425 million metric tons was 30 percent lower than the ABC recommendation.
Should a lower quota be adopted, it would only add to the expected global decline in overall pollock availability next year.
In mid-November, Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture set its TAC for the 2022 pollock season -- across all fishing zones in what's known as the Far East Fishing Basin -- at 1.927 million metric tons, down from last year, when the quota was set at 1.996 million metric tons.
Russian fisheries researchers warned in October the latest estimates of the size of the pollock biomass in the country's key harvesting region could lead to a sharp decline in the total allowable catch as early as 2024.
The news also comes on top of a complicated supply and demand picture.
As the Alaska pollock "B" season -- which started in early June -- came to a close last month, producers remained concerned not only about the size of the fish being caught, but about the ability to hire enough workers in next year's "A" season.
Ongoing tight labor market conditions leave processors struggling despite the industry overall catching up on producing valuable product forms, several executives in the US industry told IntraFish at the time.