The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Pacific cod fishery will be recertified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard after a 15-day review period starting Thursday, but the area's actual MSC status remains in limbo while regulators determine the health of the stock.
Certifier MRAG released a draft final report on Thursday recertifying a slew of Alaska whitefish fisheries, including Alaska pollock, and among the areas that received recertification was the GOA Pacific cod fishery.
However, the group's certification remains in "suspension" pending a decision to allow directed fishing on the stock, MRAG Americas Director of Fisheries Certification Amanda Stern-Pirlot, confirmed with IntraFish.
The MSC suspended the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery certificate in April after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries researchers made the decision in 2019 to close the area to harvesting after research found the available biomass would not likely be able to handle fishing pressure.
Under federal regulations, if directed fishing on a given stock would push available biomass below 40 percent, the area is closed to harvesting.
NOAA researchers determined harvesting on the GOA cod stock in 2020 would lead to just 20 percent of the overall biomass remaining in the water.
The GOA cod stock has been in decline since 2017; harvests were reduced by 80 percent in both 2018 and 2019 to encourage recovery. The GOA federal TAC was 13,096 metric tons for 2018.
Those declines have been linked with a period of atypically high temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska, the result of a vast swath of warm ocean water stretching from Alaska to California dubbed "the Blob."
MRAG Americas assessors noted the suspension of the certificate was linked specifically to the warm-water interval.
"The Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod stock and fishery continue to be extremely well managed," the group said.
"The suspension is not due to overfishing or a lock of a responsible management response, rather, the depressed stocks of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska...(are) climate driven and caused by the Gulf of Alaska marine heat wave."
The Pacific cod fishery in the GOA will be re-evaluated for its use of the MSC logo after fisheries client the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation resubmits it for an audit. Until that time, any fish sold after April 5 is still unable to use the MSC logo.
The Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery was first certified to the MSC standard in April 2010.