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Teacher At Sea Dishes on Pollock Acoustic Survey

Teacher at Sea Johanna Mendillo holds an above average large pollock, measuring 70 cm.

Do You Know Your Pollock? 

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. 

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. 


More About Teacher At Sea

This year, 25 teachers from across the country will set out to sea to work and live alongside NOAA scientists through NOAA Teacher at Sea—a program that bridges science with education. In its 22nd year, the program has provided more than 600 teachers hands-on marine research experiences varying from fish surveys in Alaskan waters to atmospheric research in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Upon return, the teachers bring their greater understanding and excitement back to the classroom, giving their students a glimpse into a scientific world that is otherwise inaccessible. 

To meet all 30 teachers of the 2012 season and follow their adventures on research cruises, visit their blogs at the NOAA Teacher at Sea website


Additional Resources

Vote Now! Red Snapper vs. Alaska Pollock

Election season is upon us, and here at Teacher at Sea, we are taking our own poll. Click the picture below to cast your vote and decide which fish Teacher at Sea will feature as their Photo of the Week on November 6th.


October 17, 2012

The next time you pick up a fish stick, think Alaska pollock. Historically, multiple types of white fish have been used for the finger food, but today, the primary fish stick fish is Alaska pollock. NOAA Teacher at Sea Johanna Mendillo, a biology and environmental science teacher at John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Boston, Massachusetts, saw lots of Alaska pollock when she boarded the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with NOAA scientists to conduct a pollock acoustic survey in the Bering Sea.

What kind of research did you help conduct?
I joined a Seattle-based NOAA science team on their biennial pollock survey in the Bering Sea. I was on the third leg of three research cruises they conducted this past summer, and I was on the Dyson for 19 days. We conducted 44 mid-water trawls and collected length, gender, and age data. NOAA scientists take data to study the size ranges at each age class, and the overall big picture for the pollock population emerges. This fall, scientists will calculate the age structure and population size of pollock from the data we gathered. That data helps scientists propose management strategies and set commercial fish quotas for the upcoming 2013 fishing season.

How does pollock get from Alaska to our plates? 
There are processing plants in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, that handle the off loading and processing of pollock. Some ships that have processing facilities on board the ships themselves; some are anchored off Dutch Harbor.

What other creatures did you see on the cruise?
I'll answer this one in pictures. 

Siberian Lumpsucker—fully grown but still small enough to fit on a cracker.

Alaskan King Crabs, species on
"Deadliest Catch."

Scientists also caught snow crabs on the Oscar Dyson.
Northern Sea Nettles, a type of jellyfish, common in the Bering Sea.

Did you learn about any common myths that people have about seafood?
The number of fish that die as a result of scientific research is unbelievably tiny compared to the population preserved and protected by management decisions. Some people believe that studying  pollock hurts the population. To put it in context, we caught approximately more than 118,000 pollock on our cruise, and they weighed 25 tons. However, last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was about 1.2 million tons.

What's an example of new science that someone following your blog would learn? 
My blog explored hydroacoustics—the study of and application of sound in water. Scientists on the Oscar Dyson use hydroacoustics to detect, assess, and monitor pollock populations in the Bering Sea. Hydroacoustics involves the use of SONAR technology. Different types of fish have different shaped and sized swim bladders, and scientists have learned that they give off different return echoes from sonar signals. These show up as slightly different shapes on the computer screen and are called a fish’s echo signature.  Scientists are still perfecting these identification techniques; luckily, in our area of the Bering Sea we encountered mostly pollock, and their echo signatures are well-recognized there.

Photo of multibeam sonar on the Oscar Dyson, showcasing the science  we use to locate fish populations in the ocean. 

How are you going to bring your experiences back to the classroom?
I am thrilled to introduce my students to the technology that scientists use to find, track, and catch fish. They need to understand how the nets are set and the data collected because long-lasting management decisions for the entire population are based on the quality of the data the NOAA scientists bring back to shore. 

I will also be teaching my students the role that pollock play in the marine food web in the Bering Sea. They are a species of great importance–their health and balance are tied to the health and balance of many other species. I am going to do a lesson on nautical charts. They will learn how the NOAA officers navigated our ship and the types of careers available if they are interested in pursuing nautical training themselves.