Johanna Mendillo: Alaska Bound! July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10, 2012

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Friday, July 13, 2012

Introductory Blog 

Hello everyone!  It is finally time– I am getting ready for my journey to sea.  What a journey this will be!  To Alaska, and the Bering Sea, to be exact.  I am very excited to share this work with you– both on the blog this summer and back at school in the fall.  As I learn more about NOAA, my ship (the Oscar Dyson), and the research work on Pollock, so will you!

First off, the basics.  What do you know about Alaska?  The Bering Sea?  The species Pollock?  If you are like me, there are probably a million or so questions on each running through your head.  So, those are the three topics I began to research first.  Here is what I learned:


Alaska is a vast and fascinating state.  It will also be the 40th state I visit!

Map of Alaska and Bering Sea
Map of Alaska and Bering Sea

State Capital: Juneau, located in the Southeast region of Alaska, has a population of 31,275 (according to the 2010 Census)

The Name: “Alaska” is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska,” meaning “great land.”

State Flower: The forget-me-not!

State Gem: Jade.  Alaska has large deposits, including an entire mountain of jade on the Seward Peninsula!

State Mineral: Gold!  Perhaps I will find some on my journey?  Gold has played a major role in Alaska’s history.

State Tree: The tall, stately Sitka spruce; it is found in southeastern and central Alaska.

State Fish: The huge king salmon (also called Chinook), which can weigh up to 100 pounds.

Fun Fact: Secretary of State William H. Seward arranged for the United States to purchase Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million dollars— or 2 cents per acre!

The Bering Sea

The Bering Sea, a northern extension of the Pacific Ocean, separates two continents- Asia and North America.  Covering over two-million sq. km (775,000 sq mi), the sea is bordered in the west by Russia and the Kamchatka Peninsula; in the south by the Aleutian Islands; in the north by the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean; and in the east by Alaska.  It is the third largest sea in the world and home to some of the richest fisheries in the world!

There is a donut in the Bering Sea?  Well, not exactly, but there is “The Donut Hole”—let me explain.  The Western side of the Bering Sea, out to 200 miles from shore, is Russian territory, and the first 200 miles offshore on the Eastern side belongs to the United States.  The section in-between, which lies 200 miles out from the coastlines of both countries, is known as “The Donut Hole,” and is considered international waters.  This area comprises 10% of the Bering Sea.

Fig. 1
Bering Sea “Donut Hole”

Now, as I had mentioned above, the Bering Sea is one of the world’s most productive fishing grounds, producing huge quantities of king crab, salmon, pollock, and other varieties of fish.  In addition, it is home to vast quantities of wildlife, including many species of whales, walrus, and millions of seabirds!  I can’t wait to take lots of pictures and videos for you to see!

Now, when many folks think of the Bering Sea, they think of the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”!  Are any of you fans?  Well, it is true that the Bering Sea is one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, and waves can easily reach 30-40 feet high.  Let’s hope we do not encounter too many of those this summer!


OK, so here is perhaps your first look at a Pollock!

Plenty of pollock!
Plenty of pollock!

Did you know:

  • Pollock has consistently been one of the top five seafood species consumed in the U.S.
  • Since 2001, U.S. commercial landings of Pollock (primarily in Alaska) have been well over 2 billion pounds each year.
  • Pollock are mid-water schooling fish that can live up to 15 years.
  • All Pollock is wild-caught in the ocean.  There is no commercial aquaculture for this species.

The wild fishery for Alaska Pollock, also known as Walleye Pollock, is the largest by volume in the United States and is also one of the largest in the world!  If you are a fan of fish sticks, chances are you have eaten Pollock!  FYI, Alaska Pollock is a different species than the Pollock found on the Atlantic coast.

It is primarily harvested by trawl vessels, which tow nets through the middle of the water column.  Some vessels are known as catcher/processors because they are large enough to catch their own fish and then process and freeze them at sea.  Other vessels deliver their catch to mother ships (at-sea processing vessels that do not catch their own fish) or to shore-side seafood processors.

Pollock is a high protein, low fat fish with a mild-flavor and a delicate and flaky texture.  Because of its adaptability, Pollock is consumed in a variety of forms that include fresh and frozen fillets, fish sticks and other breaded and battered fish products, and “surimi” products.

What is surimi, you ask?  Surimi products are formulated to imitate crab, shrimp and scallop meat and then marketed in the U.S. as imitation crab, shrimp or lobster.  They are often the “seafood” in seafood salads, stuffed entrees, and other products!  Surimi is produced by mincing and washing Alaskan Pollock fillets and then adding other ingredients to stabilize the protein in the fish and enable it to be frozen for extended periods of time.  Alaska Pollock fillets or mince is also frozen into blocks and used to produce fish sticks and used in a variety of products in fast food restaurants.

The Pollock fishery is highly regulated by the U.S. Federal government through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).  On the Eastern end, the Russian State Fisheries Committee handles government oversight.  Annual catch limits (called quotas) and seasons are set for Pollock fisheries, and limits are also set for bycatch species that may be caught unintentionally when fishing for Pollock.

In the next few days, I will continue to learn and prepare, so please send me any questions you’d like and leave comments below!  My next post will be from Alaska…stay tuned!

4 Replies to “Johanna Mendillo: Alaska Bound! July 13, 2012”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: