Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod stock nosedives; quota cuts anticipated

There will be a possible 'substantial drop' in acceptable biological catch next season.

Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod quotas may see a large cut next season following survey results presented during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) this week.

NOAA Fisheries gave a presentation of the preliminary results from this summer's bottom trawl fish survey to the NPFMC Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC).

"The surveys came back showing Gulf of Alaska cod dropped by 71 percent in abundance and 58 percent in biomass from the 2015 survey," said Steve Barbeau, stock assessment author.

"It's a precise estimate and drives the models to be lower," he told IntraFish. "It's going to probably result in a substantial drop in the ABC" (acceptable biological catch).

Barbeau said they predict rising water temperatures may be to blame.

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"There's been a very warm pool of water that sat in the Gulf of Alaska for three years. It's dissipating now, but it's usually just warm for a short period of time. This probably had a negative effect on the mortality of cod. It also affected large sea birds and whales, who died possibly due to lack of nutrition."

There will be three more reviews of the data from now until November, during which the SSC will decide to go with the NOAA stock assessment team's model or a different one for its quota recommendation.

The NPFMC will then review the recommendations from the SSC and the NPFMC's Advisory Panel

The NPFMC's advisory panel and SSC will present their recommendations to the NPFMC later this year, after which the council will determine the total allowable catch (TAC) at its December meeting. This quota decision will then be formally approved by the Secretary of Commerce.

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Pacific cod accounts for about 30 percent of the Gulf's groundfish harvest and more than 20 percent of the total Pacific cod harvest in Alaska. Products made from gulf Pacific cod had a first-wholesale value of $103 million (€87.9 million) in 2015, which was down 13 percent from $118 million (€100.7 million) in 2014 due to price decreases and a shift from fillets to lower-priced H&G. The average 2015 Pacific cod price was $1.46 (€1.25) per pound, down 15 percent, year-on-year.

The 2017 Pacific cod TAC was set at 62,150 metric tons in the Gulf , and in January the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) increased this to 64,442 metric tons. The revised TAC is 10 percent less than the TAC set the year prior.

The 2016 Pacific cod TAC fell 4 percent compared to 2015 to 71,925 metric tons. The 2017 ABC for Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska fell by 10 percent, or 10,258 metric tons, compared to the year prior. Of the groundfish fisheries in the gulf, "Pacific cod is the predominant groundfish species targeted by the fixed gear sectors," according to NPFMC.

Russia approved in April the 2018 TAC for Pacific cod at nearly 135,000 metric tons, up 8.8 percent, year-on-year.

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