Review: ‘Billion-Dollar Fish’

In “Billion Dollar Fish,” the story of the pollock boom of the 1980s and 1990s is told by Kevin Bailey, who for three decades was a fisheries scientist at Seattle’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Bailey has written dozens of scientific papers about pollock. The penalty for the reader is that in his chapter on biology he delves into the science more deeply than some will want to go. But he knows his fish, and comes at the topic neither in the pocket of the industry nor its environmental critics.

Much of his book is a business story. In economic terms, pollock is a latecomer, a species known for decades before Americans figured out how to exploit it. The fishing grounds in the Bering Sea are remote and dangerous, and per pound the fish is far less valuable than crab or salmon.

The Japanese, who prize pollock for its roe, were the first to go after it. They, the Koreans and Russians would have eventually wiped it out. Bailey recounts how they fished out the pollock in the Doughnut Hole, the part of the Bering¡ Sea not in any country’s 200-mile limit. Bailey begins his book describing his time on a foreign boat two years before that limit, a young American welcomed with big smiles as long as he didn’t look too carefully.

Congress passed the 200-mile limit in 1976. Sovereignty brought regulation, but the fleets catching the pollock were still foreign-flag. Legally, U.S.-flag boats could be first in line — if there were any.

The first was the Seafreeze Atlantic, a factory trawler built by the U.S. government and tied up on the East Coast. John Sjong and Konrad Uri, Norwegian-Americans, bought it for 38 cents on the dollar and renamed it the Arctic Trawler.

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