Possible quota cuts may be 'devastating' to some Pacific cod harvesters

Larger companies with bigger or newer vessels may be the ones suffering the most.

This upcoming fishing season is going to be tough for Pacific cod fishermen if an expected cut in the quota materializes because of an extremely large drop in stock abundance based on summer stock assessments revealed last week.

"The surveys came back showing Gulf of Alaska cod abundance dropped by 71 percent and 58 percent in biomass from the 2015 survey," said Steve Barbeau, stock assessment author. He explained an unusually long-lasting pool of water in the gulf is likely to blame.

Tatoosh Seafoods President Tony Cadden said it will take time for the sector to recoup from the effects of this warm blog. With the upcoming quota cuts, it's going to be hard for some ships to adjust, as most longliners are not equipped for species other than cod, but also "boats may not have licenses or quotas in other fisheries."

However, Jeremy Woodrow, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) communications director, said there are more vessels now that can switch to other fisheries.

"A trend we've been seeing in the last decade is fishermen diversifying the fisheries they fish in. You don't put all your eggs in one basket," he told IntraFish. "But this anticipated quota reduction, it will affect fishermen and their livelihoods."

Also, cod has more competition [than some other whitefish, such as pollock] because a lot of cod is caught other places than Alaska, he said.

As for who will be hit hardest, Cadden said size matters.

"We own our boat, so we don't have any mortgage payments, but I think it's going to be devastating for bigger companies that work with larger vessels," Cadden told IntraFish.

There will be less resource available to harvest and "they still have to pay the bank for their mortgage, and then pay the crew and other expenses. They're going to be suffering."

Last year, Seattle-based Blue North debuted its newest addition to its North Pacific fishing fleet, the Blue North, a longline cod vessel with a price tag of about $35 million (€31 million). Back in 2013, Alaskan Leader built cod longliner Northern Leader, the "largest and most innovative longliner built in the United States in over 20 years," said the company.

"We'll have to tighten our belts and work leaner with the lower quotas," said Cadden.

Cadden said the last 15 years have offered good supply.

"There was more fish than could reach the fork so the market suffered low prices. The lower prices, though, opened up the market to cod and the demand is strong now," he said.

"Right now, fishing in the Bering Sea is tight. It's not easy to catch fish right now and there's not enough cod in the market. The product always goes where price is best, but we're at a pretty high price now. We're peaked out. Is value adding the secret? Maybe. Some boats are doing that now, but I don't know what's going to save us."

He said it's a waiting game to see what will truly happen as the market price will dictate itself.

Woodrow added the issue of lower cod stocks and any potential marketing efforts will likely be addressed at ASMI's All Hands On Deck whitefish meeting this November.

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