Alaska’s Bering Sea pollock B season, which runs from June 10 to October 31, is experiencing strong volumes, but smaller fish sizes are causing a shortage of supply for the pollock fillet market.

This season is an improvement over last year’s B season, when a disappointing slog ended with fishermen leaving part of the total allowable catch in the water. Brent Paine, the executive director of United Catcher Boats, told SeafoodSource that the fish are out there, but they are about half the ideal size.

“The fishing is okay, but the fish are small. The fleet would like to see 700- to 800-gram fish, but what they’re bumping into is a lot of 400-gram fish. They’re smaller than we would like to see,” Paine told SeafoodSource.

During a recent 3-Minute Market Insight, Tradex Foods, a Canadian seafood supplier, warned that the smaller pollock size would strain supply for once-frozen pollock fillets.

“Small-size pollock will ultimately minimize the amount of pollock fillets being produced, especially for anything larger than two to four ounces,” said Tradex’s Kyla Hayward.

Tradex confirmed that pollock processors are turning out more surimi and frozen blocks than fillets, and that “a further strain on the supply of pollock will come from the fulfillment of USDA contract bids for millions of pounds of Alaskan pollock fillets and the return of food service.”

Tradex reported a raw material price of USD 1,450 (EUR 13,00) per metric ton, but recommends buyers scoop up any pollock fillets they see on the market as the supply squeeze is likely to raise prices in the future.

Even though the fish are small, steady fishing had the fleet on course to reach the Bering Sea’s total allowable catch (TAC) of 1.375 million metric tons.

“The boats are filling and delivering to the processing plants. This fishing is good, and boats are coming in full,” Paine told SeafoodSource.

And while the smaller fish may be dragging down immediate values, Paine does not think they represent a global problem in the fishery.

“The good news is that there are fish out there and they are residing on the eastern Bering Sea shelf, where we fish. Ideally we’d like to see larger sized fish, but at least we have recruitment happening,” Paine said to SeafoodSource.

Paine added that anecdotal reports indicated that the covid-19 outbreaks that periodically shut down catcher/processors vessels and inshore processors last year seemed to be in rearview.

“From what I’m hearing, there’s a good rotation of deliveries, and the Dutch Harbor plants and Akutan plants are going huckety-buck. I think they have full amount of processors working now,” Paine said.

This article was originally published on SeafoodSource.com and is republished here with permission.

Brian Hagenbuch is National Fisherman's products editor, a contributing editor to SeafoodSource and a Bristol Bay fisherman. He is based in Seattle.

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