Members of the cod family, pollock can be found on much the same deep-water grounds as their brown cousins.
Atlantic pollock, Pollachius virens, are found in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and are most common on the western Scotian Shelf off the Canadian Maritimes and in the Gulf of Maine.
Atlantic pollock are related to Atlantic cod, several species of hake, cusk, and four-bearded rockling. Pollock are brownish-green on top and slightly pale to white on the tummy. They are relatively easy to tell apart from their relatives. They have a small fatty chin barbel, which looks like a single, short whisker of a catfish. Their body is not as tapered as a cod. They do not have brown spots on their body like cod exhibit, and the lower jaw protrudes over that of the top jaw. Pollock have what I refer to as a triple “A” shaped dorsal, or top fin, just like that of cod. These are three separate fins on the top of the animal that form an “A” shape when the fish relaxes, and fins are fully extended. The main difference between cod and pollock is that pollock has a straight lateral line, while cod has a distinctive arch of their lateral line just behind the gills. Pollock swim up in the water column while cod and all of the first cousins hunker down on the seafloor. Cod, hake, cusk, and rockling are all found in varying color patterns and do not look in any way like a pollock.
Atlantic pollock grow fast at first until they become sexually mature between the ages of 3 and 6 years of age. They grow to more than 3 ½ feet long and 35 pounds and can live a very long time of up to 23 years of age. This species is usually found much larger in and around deep shipwrecks, while smaller animals can be encountered closer to shore. It is very common for scuba divers to have schools of pollock buzzing around them as they enter and exit several local dive sites in waters as shallow as ten feet.
Atlantic pollock spawn from November through February over hard, stony, or rocky ocean bottoms in areas throughout the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank when water temperatures cool to approximately 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Because this temperature threshold will trigger spawning, pollock on Canada’s Scotia Shelf will spawn earlier between September through April and peaks from December through February. They spawn multiple times per season over hard stone or rocky habitats. Pollock eggs rise into the water column after they are released and fertilized. Smaller pollock move to inshore waters and feed on small crustaceans and small fish. Larger pollock mainly prey on fish. When the fish are approximately two years old, youngsters will then move into deeper waters. Larger adults then go even further offshore, living in much deeper waters during the spring and summer months.
A variety of fish eat juvenile pollock. Spiny dogfish, monkfish, and other pollock prey on adults.
According to the NOAA Fisheries website, NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council manage the Pollock fishery. This species, along with other groundfish in New England waters, are organized under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, including permitting requirements for commercial vessels. Separate management measures for recreational vessels. Time/Area Closures to protect spawning fish and habitat. Minimum fish sizes to prevent harvest of juvenile fish. Annual catch limits, based on best available science each fishing season.
According to the 2019 stock assessment, Atlantic pollock is not overfished and is not subject to overfishing.
Pollock meat is thought of as a delicious whitefish. The meat is typically used to make fish dinners, falling under the “scrod” classification, or catch of the day, as well as imitation crab meat.
These are very cool and curious fish, often interacting with scuba divers and snorkelers at every depth, and can be seen and photographed in massive schools in our ocean playground. I have caught pollock using sea worms and clam meat as bait with either a drop line or rod and reel. You will have better luck if you reel the bait several feet off the bottom so you do not get your bait stolen by other bottom dwellers.