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An Empty Donut Hole: the Great Collapse of a North American Fishery

Kevin M. Bailey, Alaska Fisheries Science Center

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Abstract

Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) is North America's most abundant and lucrative natural fishery, and is the world’s largest fishery for human food. The little-known demise of the "Donut Hole" stock of pollock in the Aleutian Basin of the central Bering Sea during the 1980s is the most spectacular fishery collapse in North American history, dwarfing the famous crashes of the northern cod and Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax). This collapse has received scant recognition and became evident only in 1993 when fishing was banned by an international moratorium; nearly 20 years later it has not recovered. The history of fishing in the North Pacific Ocean after World War II offers some insights into how the Donut Hole pollock fishery developed, and the societal and economic pressures behind it that so influenced the stock’s fate. Overfishing was, without a doubt, the greatest contributor to the collapse of the Aleutian Basin pollock fishery, but a lack of knowledge about population biocomplexity added to the confusion of how to best manage the harvest. Unfortunately, the big scientific questions regarding the relationship of Donut Hole fish to other stocks are still unanswered.

Key words

Aleutian Basin; Bering Sea; commercial fisheries; conservation; North Pacific; Theragra chalcogramma; walleye pollock
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087