NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 10 – June 22, 2023
Mission: 2023 Summer Acoustic-Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock in the Gulf of Alaska
Geographic Area of Cruise: Islands of Four Mountains area, Western Gulf of Alaska
Location (2PM (Alaska Time), June 14): 52o 30.9860′ N, 169o 08.0942′ W
Data from 2PM (Alaska Time), June 14, 2023
Air Temperature: 8.11 oC
Water Temperature (mid-hull): 8.0oC
Wind Speed: 8.27 knots
Wind Direction: 243.96 degrees
Course Over Ground (COG): 239.25 degrees
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 13.05 knots
Date: June 15, 2023
I’m trained as a geologist and oceanographer. My teaching and research has focused on the physical sciences, which is why I’m so excited to have the opportunity to work with scientists in the life sciences. But before I start with the acoustic-trawl survey of walleye pollock, I had to do my homework – namely, learn something about this fish!
There is a wealth of resources on NOAA’s website that are providing me the introductory overview or “101” on pollock and the overall mission of maintaining sustainable fisheries. I started by viewing this NOAA video on Alaska’s Pollock Fishery: A Model of Sustainability.
This video shared so much but also generated so many more questions! I decided to take a step back and do a deeper dive into some of these topics, starting with the fish…
Alaska (walleye) pollock
NOAA Fisheries is doing an incredible volume of work in the Alaska region – including a focus on the Alaska pollock.
A member of the cod family, Alaska pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) is also referred to as pollock, walleye pollock, and Pacific pollock. The NOAA Fisheries Species Directory for Alaska pollock states that Alaska pollock typically grow between 12 and 20 inches and weigh between 1 to 3 pounds. Their speckled coloring allows them to blend in with the seafloor to avoid predators such as Stellar sea lions, fish, seabirds – even older pollock will feed on juvenile pollock! Humans feed on pollock in products from fillets to fish sticks to surimi.
Alaska pollock are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean but are most common in the Bering Sea. Pollock migrate inshore to shallow water to breed and feed in the spring, then move back to warmer, deeper waters in the winter.
I always like to start by ensuring I’m using the terminology correctly. The NOAA web page for Understanding Fisheries Management in the United States defines fishery as the following:
The word “fishery” is used in many ways. It can refer to the occupation, industry, or season for catching fish. It can also refer to the area of ocean where fish are caught, or the business of catching the fish. U.S. fisheries include commercial (catching/marketing fish and shellfish for profit), recreational (fishing for sport/pleasure), and subsistence (fishing for personal/family/community consumption or sharing.
Next, what is meant by sustainable fisheries? NOAA defines this in the following video and in the quote below:
“U.S. fisheries are big business, providing jobs and recreation and keeping our coastal communities vibrant. In fact, the United States is a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood. Working closely with commercial, recreational, and small-scale tribal fishermen, we have rebuilt numerous fish stocks and managed to create some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world. U.S. fisheries are scientifically monitored, regionally managed, and legally enforced under 10 national standards of sustainability. Managing sustainable fisheries is a dynamic process that requires constant and routine attention to new scientific information that can guide management actions.” — from NOAA Fisheries – Sustainable Fisheries
[*Note – To help my students with ocean definitions, I also like to show video clips from the Pew/Jim Toomey (cartoonist behind “Sherman’s Lagoon”) Visual Glossary of Ocean Terminology, such as the videos for What Is U.S. Fisheries Management? and What Is Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management? ]
NOAA’s FishWatch website is a great place to find the most up-to-date information on popular seafood harvested or farmed in the United States. This helps each of us as consumers to make smart choices! Check out the page for the Alaska pollock to see the details available for this fish, currently classified as a smart seafood choice because it is “sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.” This is so important to note, as according to FishWatch, the Alaska pollock fishery is one of the most valuable in the world, with commercial landings of Alaska pollock from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska in 2020 totaling more than 3.23 billion pounds and were valued at approximately $420 million.
Alaska pollock library of articles
Several articles on NOAA’s website were helpful in not only providing me more background information to prepare for my time on Oscar Dyson, but the content really showed me the context of what NOAA is doing for fisheries research/management and why it matters. My students probably recognize this as a list of articles I would give them to develop their current event literacy, as these are recent dates of publication and from a credible source (NOAA, of course!) – and of course, contribute to advancing their ocean literacy.
If you wish to learn more about the current state of Alaska pollock research with NOAA, I highly recommend these recent articles from NOAA Fisheries News & Announcements:
- Visualizing Shifts of Pollock, Cod in the Northern Bering Sea in Response to Warming Waters (May 12, 2023)
- Developing 3D Stereo Camera Technology to Support Sustainable Fisheries (February 22, 2023)
- Uncrewed Surface Vehicles Complement NOAA Vessels for More Efficient Fisheries Surveys (February 15, 2023)
- Empowering a Fleet Through Electronic Technologies (January 11, 2023)
- Scientists Release Annual Status Reports for Three Alaska Marine Ecosystems (December 20, 2022)
- Special Issue Journal Focuses on Ecosystem Processes in the Gulf of Alaska (October 18, 2022)
- New Approach To Evaluate Fish Stock Productivity Under Changing Climate Conditions (December 14, 2021)
- Developing a Strategy For Monitoring Alaska Fisheries in 2022 and Beyond (October 14, 2021)
- Low-Fat Diet Possible Culprit in Poor Survival of Young Pollock Born 2013 (July 20, 2021)
- As Marine Fish Shift With Climate Change, Scientists Work Across Borders to Ensure Sustainability (June 22, 2021)
- Water Clarity Study Sheds Light on Bering Sea Change (March 17, 2021)
- Ocean-Going Robots Effective at Surveying Pollock (December 10, 2020)
- Study Shows Pollock Stocks are Mixing More Due to Changing Ocean Conditions and Weather Patterns (October 26, 2020)
- What Happened to the Pollock Born in 2015 (October 8, 2020)
- Wind Influences Pollock Success in the Gulf of Alaska (September 28, 2020)
- Collaboration and Partnerships Make Data Collection Possible in a Challenging Year for Arctic Research (September 25, 2020)
- Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Strengthens Resilience to Climate Change (September 14, 2020)
- Pollock Survey Begins in Eastern Bering Sea (July 15, 2020)
- Ocean-Going Robots Poised to Enter Bering Sea to Start Unconventional Fisheries Survey (July 1, 2020)
- Autonomous Vehicles Help Scientists Estimate Fish Abundance While Protecting Human Health and Safety (June 1, 2020)
For podcast fans, this 2013 NOAA Fisheries podcast episode titled Keeping an Eye on Pollock is an excellent overview of how “scientists and fishermen work together to understand how walleye pollock respond to a changing environment” (transcript available online).
In reviewing these articles and the podcast, it is clear that NOAA is focused on advancing the technology to survey Alaska pollock with new tools such as saildrones. There is also an interest in closely monitoring the impact climate change is having on the juvenile and adult populations of pollock (see the NOAA Fisheries site on Climate Change). This video, released January 2022, is a great snapshot of how NOAA Fisheries is preparing and responding to the impacts of climate change (link to web page that supports the video).
OK, I’m feeling good about my background on the “what” and “why” of Alaska pollock, and I hope you are, too! Next, it’s time to share the activities of the science team that is applying science knowledge and technology tools to studying pollock on Oscar Dyson!