A drastic drop in the biomass and abundance of Pacific cod, due to anomalous warm conditions in the Gulf of Alaska, starting in 2014 and lasting at least through 2016, has prompted an 80 percent cut in the allowable catch for 2018.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council set the Gulf’s cod quota at 13,096 metric tons, down from 64,442 metric tons in 2017. The forecast for 2019 is a TAC of 12,368 metric tons.
The council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) noted that the unusual warm event, known as “the blob” affected the entire ecosystem. The decline was most obvious in a sharp reduction in the 2017 bottom trawl survey biomass, with Pacific cod consistently encountered in very low abundances throughout the survey region.
The council also cut Gulf Pollock TAC for 2018 to 166,228 metric tons, down from 184,243 metric tons in 2017, with a forecast of 112,677 metric tons in 2019.
The overall TAC for all Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvests in 2018 was set at 427,512 metric tons, down from 535,863 metric tons a year earlier.
The situation poses a big economic concern for Gulf of Alaska coastal communities, as the cod fisheries could be reduced from weeks to days of fishing.
Julie Bonney of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank told the council it is important that everyone engaged in the cod fishery, including harvesters and processor workers, be aware of what’s happening, so that they’re not surprised when the season opens. “It doesn’t make sense to gear up, spend all that money, and then fish for a few days, so I think the number of folks who will fish will be less,” she said. “I’m concerned that people don’t know what the production means in terms of the fishing plan.”
Bonney said she expected the subject to be up for discussion today when the Kodiak fisheries work group meets in Kodiak, Alaska.
The TAC for Arrowtooth flounder was down from 103,300 metric tons in 2017 to 76,300 metric tons for the coming year. TACS were also lowered for flathead sole, northern rockfish, shortraker rockfish, dusky rockfish and other rockfish.
The catch allowance for sablefish, by contrast, rose from 10,074 metric tons to 11,505 metric tons for 2018. Other TAC boosts included shallow water flatfish, deep-water flatfish, rex sole, Pacific Ocean perch, rougheye and blackspotted rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish and thornyhead rockfish.
The Council also approved a TAC of 1,364,341 metric tons of Pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea, up from 1,345,000 metric tons in 2017, with a forecast of 1,383,000 metric tons in 2019.
Elsewhere in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, Pacific cod TACs went in the other direction, set at 188,136 metric tons for 2018, down from the 2017 TAC of 223,704 metric tons, with a forecast of 159,120 metric tons in 2019.
Sablefish TACs for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands rose from 1,274 metric tons in 2017 to 1,464 metric tons for 2018, with a forecast of 2,061 metric tons in 2019.
Pacific Ocean perch TACs rose from 34,900 metric tons to 37,361 metric tons, with a forecast of 37,880 metric tons in 2019. Northern rockfish TACs were up too, from 5,000 metric tons to 6,100 metric tons, with a forecast of 6,500 metric tons in 2019.