Catch limits (TACs) are consistently set well below the advised upper limit on harvests (the ABC). Biomass has rebounded to target level and under current harvest regime, odds of dropping below B20% (the lower limit, which would shut the fishery) are judged to be virtually zero. The stock assessment evaluates multiple models and undergoes expert review. Methods and results are publicly available.
For an Alaska groundfish fishery, catch compliance has been unusually weak in Gulf of Alaska cod since the state-waters fishery began competing for a share of the TAC. Catch limits are set low enough to compensate (well below ABC), but this pattern points to a potentially significant vulnerability. The recently reduced political influence of Alaska exposes the region’s fisheries to risk of reduced federal funding for essential science underpinning management.
Evaluate strategies for strengthening catch compliance. Advocate for adequate federal funding of stock assessment surveys and essential research on the fishery, its impacts, and the ecosystem that sustains it.
Last updated on 27 December 2018
Recommendations to Retailers & Supply Chain
- Monitor the performance of the fishery and its management to ensure the fishery continues to be eligible for condition-free MSC re-certification.
Last updated on 29 June 2013
The Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod stock assessment uses age-structured assessment models that undergo extensive expert review and revision. To prepare guidance for annual fisheries, the assessment team works through a consultative process with scientists on the Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Plan Team and the North Pacific Marine Fisheries Council’s (NPMFC’s) Advisory Panel and Science and Statistical Committee (SSC). Parameter estimates from 10 models were compared prior to selection of the final model used to derive the 2013 fishery guidelines (Model 2)(A’mar et al. 2013). Assessment results and methods are publicly available. Regular surveys and extensive research increase the robustness of assessments.
Trawl surveys conducted in 2011 indicate a decrease in abundance, with biomass and population size estimated to be 33% and 38% lower respectively than in 2009. However the 2009 abundance measures were the highest ever estimated during the history of the surveys; further, biomass in 2011 was estimated to be 115% above the record low estimate from 2007, and population size was estimated to be 81% over the 2007 estimate.
Last updated on 24 June 2013
The advised fishery mortality rate for 2013 (0.49) is based on the F40% threshold, as directed by the the Gulf of Alaska Harvest Management Plan for a spawning stock biomass in excess of the target level (B40%) (A’mar et al. 2012). Estimated spawning biomass increased substantially between 2009 and 2012, exceeding the B40% threshold during the period. However, a decrease in spawning biomass is projected for 2013 (though still expected to be well above the B40% mark), and the advised maximum catch limit (the Acceptable Biological Catch) of 80,800 tonnes is down 8% from 87,600 tonnes in 2012.
The harvest policy includes multiple measures to reduce potential for overfishing. The harvest policy requires a decrease in F when biomass declines below target level (NPMFC 2012).
Last updated on 24 Jun 2013
Reference points for biomass and fishing mortality for Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska are reported in the 2012 stock assessment (SAFE) report (A’mar et al. 2012, p. 183). Numbers reported for the 2013 fishery based on the December 2012 analysis are as follows (biomass values are in units of metric tonnes):
Female spawning biomass in 2013 (projected)
0.49 = maximum F advised
0.61 = F at overfishing level
As a Tier 3b stock under the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s harvest policy, Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod is managed to a biomass target point (Btrp) of B40%, which is projected to be 93,900 t in 2013.
At 0.49, the maximum advised harvest rate is set well below the overfishing level of 0.61.
Blim = B20%.
Last updated on 24 June 2013
Following a long gradual trend of decline, and a short period below the B40% threshold, considerable increases in spawning biomass have been observed since 2009 (A’mar et al. 2012). A decrease in spawning biomass is projected for 2013 (though still expected to be well above the B40% mark). Fishery mortality rates have been well below Fmax (F40%).
Last updated on 24 Jun 2013
Biomass rebounded in 2009 after a long, slow decline. The 2009 GOA bottom trawl survey indicated record-high total biomass of 752,651 t, up from the record low of 233,310 t in 2007. Steep increases in spawning biomass observed since 2009 may be tapering- based on the 2012 assessment analysis, spawning biomass is projected to decrease from 123,900 t in 2012 to 111,000 t in 2013 and rise slightly to 112,900 t in 2014 (A’mar et al. 2012).
Starting in 1977, when the current system of federal fishery management began, catch limits for Gulf of Alaska cod fluctuated between 60,000 and 90,000 tons for more than two decades (A’mr et al. 2012). In 2000, the TAC was set below 60,000 for the first time, and managers continued to reduce the catch limit throughout the decade to accommodate the low ebb in biomass. While the upward trend in biomass between 2009 and 2012 allowed significant increases in allowable catch over the past several years, the TAC of 60,600 t for 2013 (NOAA 2013) was set below the prior year TAC (65,700 t) for the first time since 2009.
Last updated on 16 February 2010
Groundfish stocks are broadly covered under federal management authority; however the state of Alaska manages Pacific cod fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska under two scenarios. During the federally managed fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the state of Alaska concurrently administers management of Pacific cod fisheries within state waters (EEZ) (Woodby et al. 2005). These “parallel fisheries” are subjected to most of the same management actions and guidelines as the federal fishery, and harvests in both the federally prosecuted and parallel state fisheries apply toward the total allowable catch (TAC) set by the NPMFC. Vessels participating in the parallel fishery must be state-registered, but are not required to hold federal fishing permits; as such, these vessels are not subject to federal requirements pertaining to logbooks and observer coverage (Stichert 2012). The implementation of an independently managed state-waters fishery in 1997 brought changes in jurisdiction authority, catcher participation and distribution of the total catch allocation for Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod. Management plans for this additional fishery are developed through the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) process, and Guideline Harvest Limits (GHL’s) are set based on a percentage of the federal Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) established by the NPMFC (Woodby et al. 2005). The allotment for the Gulf of Alaska GHL is further apportioned by state management area and gear type. The state-run fisheries generally begin following the closure of the federal and parallel fisheries. Pot and jig are the only gears permitted in most areas, though longline gear became a legal gear type in Prince William Sound in 2009 (Russ et al. 2013).
Federal catch limits have been adapted in order to accommodate the the state-run fishery (Woodby et al. 2005; A’mar et al. 2012). While the TAC between 1988 and 1997 was consistently set equal to the ABC, the TAC in subsequent years has been reduced to allow up to 25% of the ABC to be allocated among state GHLs. The TAC has been set at no more than 76% of the ABC every year since 2003, when it was set at 78%. Since the onset of the state-run fishery, federally prosecuted and parallel fisheries have only exceeded the TAC limit twice, and the ABC has never been exceeded.
Last updated on 16 Feb 2010
Not applicable. The stock is neither overfished (depleted) nor subject to overfishing, according to the assessment.
Last updated on 29 June 2013
Catches that apply toward the Pacific cod TAC for the Gulf of Alaska, including fish harvested in the federally managed fishery in the EEZ and in parallel fisheries in state waters, have exceeded the TAC twice since 1997; by 2% in 2003 and by 1% in 1999 (based on data in A’mar et al. 2012). State-run Gulf of Alaska cod fisheries are managed to meet guideline harvest limits (GHL’s), which are an allocation of the acceptable biological catch; overages do occur within gear type and smaller area sector GHL allocations, but are usually by a small percentage at the state management area scale. The exception recently has been Prince William Sound, where the GHL was exceeded each year between 2009 and 2011 by up to 45% (Russ et al. 2013). This trend follows the addition of longline gear as a legal gear type in Prince William Sound waters, which increased harvests markedly. The total Pacific cod ABC for the Gulf of Alaska, which is allocated among the federal TAC and state GHL’s, has not been exceeded since 1997.
An observer programme monitors catches, bycatch and discards on board larger fishing vessels and Vessel Monitoring Systems are required for trawl, logline or pot fishing vessels. At-sea inspections are conducted and logbooks are mandatory (Mohn et al., 2010a).
Last updated on 30 June 2013
Management measures are in place to limit impacts on Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed Steller sea lions inhabiting the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and Bering and Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fishery management areas. Two distinct population segments (DPS’s), the eastern U.S. and western U.S. segments, are distributed on either side of a boundary extending southeast from Cape Suckling, Alaska (NMFS 2013b). Both populations were listed under the ESA in 1990. In 2012, NOAA completed a review recommending de-listing of the eastern population (NOAA 2012); however, the western population retains its listed status.
While the risk of encounters with marine mammals in the GOA and BSAI fisheries is considered remote (NOAA 2011a), there is potential for these fisheries to reduce availability of prey items important to Steller sea lion survival (A’mar et al. 2012). Studies indicate that Pacific cod in these areas are a key prey species for Steller sea lions, particularly in winter (Calkins 1998; Sinclair and Zeppelin 2002). The fishery operates to a degree in Steller sea lion foraging areas, and overlap in size range of Pacific cod exploited by commercial fisheries and consumed by Steller sea lions has been documented (Livingston 2002; NMFS 2010). As a protective measure, the National Marine Fisheries Service disperses fishing over time and area to avoid impacting key foraging times and locations (haulouts and rookeries) (NMFS 2012); there are similar measures in place for state managed fisheries (NMFS 2010). For federal and parallel state fisheries managed for Total Allowable Catch (TAC), directed fishing on Steller sea lion prey species is prohibited if biomass is projected to decline below B20% (20% of equilibrium spawning biomass) (NPMFC 2012).
In 2010, NMFS reviewed fishery management actions in the GOA and BSAI to re-assess their impacts on ESA listed species. The result was a draft revised biological opinion concluding that fishing activities operating under the existing fishery management plan were likely to adversely modify the critical habitat of the western DPS of Steller sea lions and jeopardize its existence (NMFS 2010). Based on the analysis, revised protection measures were recommended in three BSAI federal fishing areas selected based on severity of declines in sea lion abundance, importance of habitat and magnitude of fishery impact. No additional protection measures were recommended for the GOA fisheries. Several alternatives to these recommendations, including a preferred alternative with more reduced BSAI fishery closures were outlined in a 2013 draft environmental impact statement (NMFS 2013a). A finalized EIS is expected in 2014.
Meanwhile, implementation of Amendment 83 to the GOA groundfish Fishery Management Plan may indirectly benefit Steller sea lions (NOAA 2011b). By allocating TAC’s of Pacific cod among various gear and operational sectors, this amendment is intended to reduce competition, impart fishery stability and promote a shift toward use of less intensive gear types. These outcomes would not only facilitate development of management measures that mitigate Steller sea lion impacts, but also promote bycatch reduction and prohibited species avoidance.
Seabirds are incidentally impacted by all gear types. Acceptable limits have been determined for the short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus; the current ESA Biological Opinion allows for four Short-tailed Albatross mortalities over a two-year period) and other protected species but are not known for all species affected by the fishery. No Short-tailed Albatross have been taken in the Gulf of Alaska in over a decade (Zador 2012).
Closed areas are enforced around seabird breeding grounds and longline vessels have introduced devices, especially streamer lines, which have significantly reduced seabird bycatch (Mohn et al., 2010b). Marine Stewardship Council certification conditions requiring that 1) the interaction of the trawl fishery with seabirds be further explored, 2) that seabird bycatch by the longline sector be determined to the species level, and 3) that impacts of the longline fishery on skate species be determined were resolved as of the 2012 Gulf of Alaska pacific cod surveillance audit (Rice et al. 2012).
Last updated on 10 July 2013
The Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) incidentally takes some other species, but bycatch rates have been comparatively modest. Between 2003 and 2010, only sea stars averaged more than 200t annually (A’mar 2012). Concerns over capture of Chinook salmon recently prompted the North Pacific Marine Fisheries Council to impose an annual hard cap of 7,500 Chinook salmon on the GOA non-pollock trawl fleet (NPMFC 2013b). The volume of Chinook salmon captured in these fisheries is relatively small compared to that of the targeted and other bycatch species; however, in light of poor Chinook salmon returns particularly in the Westward, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions of Alaska, pressure to reduce the numbers of incidentally caught Chinook salmon has been high (AMCC 2012). Between 2003 and 2001, the non-pollock trawl fleet in the GOA captured an estimated average of 6,001 Chinook salmon annually (NPMFC 2013a). The GOA cod fishery accounted for 15% of this catch.
Last updated on 8 August 2010
The cod trawl fishery uses bottom trawls, which may disrupt seabed habitat. Managers have responded to this risk, and other concerns, by closing large areas of the Gulf of Alaska and nearby marine waters to bottom trawling.
Ocean acidification is expected to have far-reaching effects on the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, likely with negative implications for the Pacific cod fishery. These waters “will be impacted by enhanced ocean acidification over the next decade,” write Fabry et al (2009) in a review of rapid changes high-in ocean chemistry at high latitudes. Impacts on fisheries in the Gulf cannot yet be clearly identified, but shelled plankton, shrimp, and other species that represent important food sources for cod are potentially vulnerable to this change. The most important prey items for Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod in terms of percent occurrence have been euphausids, miscellaneous fishes, and amphipods (Thompson et al. 2008). By weight of organisms consumed, walleye pollock, fishery offal, yellowfin sole, and crustaceans have been some of the most highly consumed items.
Last updated on 08 Aug 2010
Bottom trawling is prohibited year-round in large areas of the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska. Year round trawl closures and reserves in the Gulf of Alaska include a patchwork of areas totalling approximately 23,347 square nautical miles (nm2) in order to protect various species and habitats, including king crab, coral and pinnacle habitat, seamounts, and rookeries and haul outs used by Steller sea lions. A year-round bottom trawl ban in Southeast Alaska places another 52,600 nm2 off limits. Seasonal closures protect another 15,300 nm2 for king crab and Steller sea lions during the winter and spring. The Alaska Seamount Habitat Protection Areas and the GoA Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, as sites of particular ecological importance, prohibited to all bottom contact gears. Additional closures restrict other fishing gears in parts of this region. Additional closures restrict scallop dredging and other fishing gears in parts of this region.