Fisheries for Atka mackerel evolved from strictly foreign fisheries in the 1970s, largely by fishermen from the U.S.S.R., Japan and the Republic of Korea. These were followed by joint venture fisheries with American catchers and foreign processing ships in the 1980s, and those were replaced by a wholly domestic fishery since 1990.
Fisheries for Atka mackerel take place primarily in federal waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone, although some harvest also occurs in state waters of the Aleutian Islands as a parallel fishery under the jurisdiction of the State of Alaska. Parallel fisheries conducted elsewhere in state waters, primarily for Pacific cod and pollock, also yield catches of Atka mackerel.
The directed fishery for Atka mackerel is conducted primarily with bottom trawls. This species may also be caught with jig gear (hook and line). According to federal regulations, jig fishermen may be allowed up to 2 percent of the quota for the Eastern Aleutian District and the Bering Sea subarea that is not allocated to Community Development Quota groups. The vast majority of the harvest is taken in depths shallower than 200m.
A bycatch-only fishery for Atka mackerel is prosecuted in the Gulf of Alaska, with apparent targeting for Atka mackerel in the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska. In the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands, catches of Atka mackerel are concentrated in the vicinities of Unimak and Akutan Passes and along the Aleutian Islands between Seguam and Attu Islands.
The Total Allowable Catch for Atka mackerel is dispersed temporally and geographically to reduce possible adverse impacts of the fishery on the endangered western Steller sea lion. The level of fishing for Atka mackerel in critical Steller sea lion habitat was also reduced. Fishing effort in the Central and Western Aleutians is reduced by allowing only half of the fleet to fish at one time within Steller sea lion critical habitat. In addition, trawling is prohibited within specified distances from rookeries and haulouts.