« November 2010 Table of Contents
Top Species: Pollock/surimi
Pollock weathers low quotas, and now business is looking up
By Joanne Friedrick
November 01, 2010
After coping with two years of quota cuts, the pollock
industry is hoping to regain some ground with improved harvest
levels in 2011.
Although a quota won't be set until late in the year, Marc
Wells, president of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers and
VP-sales for Arctic Storm Management Group in Seattle, says the
smaller fish in this year's catch are a good indication that
there's a large and healthy biomass in the Bering Sea.
"Fishing took a little longer this year," he says, in large
part because fishermen were avoiding the smaller fish. Prices
settled to a reasonable level over last year, with fillet
blocks selling for $3,800 to $3,900 per ton, and minced around
$2,300 per ton, says Wells.
Both Wells and GAPP
Program Director Pat Shanahan say it's
too soon to speculate on next year's quota, "but federal
scientists report their surveys appear good and [the quota]
should be up," notes Shanahan.
She adds that pollock is one of the most studied seafood
species and is considered a model fishery when it comes to
sustainability. That's important in the United States, but
especially significant among European buyers, says Wells, where
most manufacturers have sustainability guidelines in place.
Because this year's quota was the lowest in 32 years at 813
metric tons and demand hasn't slowed, prices have risen, says
John van Amerongen, director of marketing and communications at
Trident Seafoods in Seattle. "Less pollock up the ramp means
fewer fillets and higher prices for the finished product," he
says. "But pollock is still a great whitefish, and frankly we
wish we had more of it."
Still, says van Amerongen, the pollock quotas are neither
"Draconian nor unnecessary. We're actually very fortunate that
we monitor the stocks as closely as we do and that as an
industry we have the capacity to respond to resource
fluctuations in a timely fashion. That's the beauty of fish
management in the North Pacific."
Like Shanahan and Wells, van Amerongen is betting on quotas
to head back up for 2011.
Surimi and beyond
In the meantime, Trident is maximizing its usage of every
fish, producing IQF fillets, fillet blocks, surimi, pollock
roe, fishmeal and fish oil.
Robert Bleu, president of Shining Ocean, a major
producer based in Sumner, Wash., says prices have reflected
shorter supplies, adding that surimi has also been hit by
increased costs for other ingredients.
In response, Shining Ocean is also looking for ways to
improve efficiencies and create value for its customers, while
exploring price increases as well.
Shining Ocean, which serves about 200 customers, has seen
the surimi business level off, says Bleu. "Some of our
customers' business is up 15 to 20 percent, while others are
down 15 to 20 percent. There hasn't been significant growth in
surimi, and the cost of materials is up, so that doesn't help
us much in our current economy. But we've taken less of a hit
than other high-grade seafood."
Because supplies of king and snow crab remain tight, van
Amerongen sees continued demand for surimi.
Trident has recently focused on a couple of different
surimi-seafood options: snack-ready sticks in vacuum packages
that allow consumers to eat them as they do string cheese; and
"super shred" surimi, which has a different look and mouth feel
than traditional surimi seafood.
"We introduced a wasabi-stuffed surimi stick at the Boston
Seafood Show last spring," says van Amerongen, "and it sampled
very well. I'd expect to see more of that sort of item in
retail." For foodservice, the super-shred option is appealing
for sandwiches and salad preparations.
With pollock, he says, the focus has been on reformulating
Trident's fish stick to conform to natural-ingredient
guidelines. And the company has also been reworking its breaded
fish that is sold to military customers, he says.
"They've been moving away from deep fryers in their galleys
and mess halls, working quite hard to dial back the fat in the
food they serve the troops," he says. But the flip side is that
breaded fish now needs to crisp up in the oven. Trident's
answer is a panko-breaded sandwich portion.
Educating the educators
Like the military, schools have also taken a closer look at
their menus, which has been a boon for pollock,
GAPP has been working for the past five years on bringing
high-quality fish, such as pollock, into schools. Just recently
pollock was included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
commodity purchasing program.
Under the program, explains Shanahan, schools that provide
free or reduced-cost meals to children earn credits, which can
then be used to purchase various commodity foods, such as
once-frozen pollock blocks. The government buys the fish at the
market rate, while schools get a good quality product at a good
price, she says.
The interest has been so good, she says, that "initially, we
were caught by surprise," and had to explain to the schools
that unlike some food items that are available year-round,
pollock is caught during a specific season and sold based on
In that way, pollock is much more like a fresh fruit and
vegetable program, says Shanahan, than it is like other
Although the percentage of the total catch going to schools
is still small, says Wells of Arctic Storm, the program will be
helpful in marketing additional quota next year. He credited
GAPP's ongoing education program with schools for the
acceptance of pollock as part of the USDA program.
"We've been educating schools on how to be smart food
purchasers," says Shanahan. "And we're excited too that the new
FDA dietary guidelines recommend fish be included, so now there
will be more demand."
Wells says the reason pollock works for school lunch
programs is multi-faceted. "Pollock is high in protein, has
omega-3, and carries a coating well," he says, and is replacing
cod as a mellow-tasting, flaky whitefish.
Colleges and universities have also found success menuing
pollock, as evidenced at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Patrick Niles, foodservice director for A'viands Food and Services Management, which has run the UWGB program since 2009,
says pollock is menued daily when school is in session.
"We go through five cases of breaded pollock a week," says
Fazli Ademi, executive chef for A'viands. Fried sells better
than baked, however, even though Ademi has tried to work baked
pollock and other species into his menu.
In its Marketplace Entrées area - one of 11 dining options
on campus - 6 ounces of fried pollock sells for $3.85. "It's a
good value, so it sells well," says Ademi. "I've tried salmon
and tilapia, baked cod and shrimp, but none sells as well as
the fried pollock," he explains.
Niles notes the foodservice plan is currently in the process
of switching to a sustainable seafood program that will follow
the recommendations of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
program. Alaska pollock and surimi made from Alaska pollock are
rated as good alternatives on the list.
The challenge, says
both Niles and Ademi, is finding a
vendor that can supply only sustainably harvested seafood.Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland,