Why Alaskan Pollock Might Not Actually Be From Alaska

Germany's favorite fish isn't always caught off the Alaskan coast. U.S. fishermen want transparency for consumers. But such a move could upend the fishing industry.

Fishing Alaskan pollock
Fishing Alaskan pollock
Birger Nicolai

BERLIN — Captain Timothy Thomas, an American, trawls for Alaskan pollock, a type of fish loved by Germans, off the Alaskan coast in the northeast Pacific.

His vehicle is a 103-meter-long ship called "Northern Jaeger" that can fit a crew of 135 and swish by at 26 kilometers per hour.

The Northern Jaeger catches 150 tons of pollock everyday with strict specifications — each fish has to be at least 3 years old and weigh at least 700 grams — while battling waves that Thomas says can be as high as skyscrapers for several weeks of the year.

As soon as the fish is caught, it is cut into fillets by machines before being frozen at -18 °C. The catch usually ends up as fish fingers or filets in the freezers of our local supermarket.

Just a few hundred nautical miles west of Thomas are Russian and Japanese trawlers that use large nets to catch pollock in the Bering and Okhotsk seas. Unlike him, they do not process the fish in its entirety on board the trawlers. They just gut the fish and freeze them at -12 °C. The trawlers then travel to China, where the fish is defrosted and plant workers filet the fish and freeze them again.

Weeks later the products are found in supermarket freezers labeled as Alaskan pollock — this fish is more sought after than Peruvian anchovy.

All fish from the northern Pacific is called Alaskan pollock regardless of where the fish was caught and processed. It's not clear to consumers whether the fish they're eating is actually Alaskan pollock.

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Adult pollock — Photo: NOAA FishWatch

Debate about the labeling of pollock is one of the biggest points of contention in the European Union regulatory system.

Lawyers are confident that is possible to legally protect the "Alaskan" label. Germany has a branding law that applies to delicacies like Black Forest Ham. There are agreements between European countries pertaining to labeling the place of origin. For instance, only champagne from the French region of Champagne can be called that.

"It makes perfect sense for producers as well as consumers to legally protect the geographical denomination," says Ulrich Hildebrandt of law firm Lubberger Lehment.

Fishermen in Alaska are now trying to protect their product through their organization Genuine Alaskan Pollock Producers (GAPP). They recently managed to get a law passed in the U.S. that stipulates that only fish caught in a 200-mile radius off the Alaskan coast would be allowed to call itself Alaskan pollock.

Pat Shanahan, the director of GAPP, says that she has already spoken with authorities in Brussels about legal protections in Europe for the group's product, and expects a positive result. "We have already been able to prove to the FDA in the U.S. that consumers feel cheated," she says, referring to the food and drug administration, the U.S. agency responsible for regulating food and medicine.

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Canned Alaskan pollock roe served in Russia — Photo: Upsidedowninatown

If GAPP's efforts are successful, the German fishing and processing industry would be affected as pollock accounts for 20% of all fish sales in Germany. About 40% of the Alaskan pollock processed in the country is from fishing grounds off the Alaskan coast while the remainder comes from Russian or Japanese fishermen.

If consumers feel they aren't getting good quality fish, there could be a severe impact on the turnover for the German fishing industry.

"The name given to a fish doesn't have anything to do with the origin of the fish," says Matthias Keller, head of the Fish Information Centre in Hamburg. "What Alaskan fishermen are trying to do is just a marketing strategy, pure and simple."

Philipp Kanstinger of the World Wildlife Fund says that there is no genetic difference between fish caught in the Alaskan coast and the Bering sea.

"This particular type of fish is called Alaskan pollock in more than one language, no matter in which region it has been caught," he says.

Captain Timothy Thomas, who has been fishing off the Alaskan coast for more than 30 years, says he can't imagine eating anything but Alaskan pollock. But even he says he can't eat it if it's coming from a Chinese factory.

*A previous version of this story, including the headline, mistakenly refered to pollock as "cod." Though they belong to the same family, they are two distinct species.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]


This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.


South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.



In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.


Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️


"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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