Pacific Cod Prohibition Through December, Central Gulf of Alaska
October 1, 2018
On August 29, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), announced a temporary closure on directed fishing for Pacific cod by catcher vessels using trawl gear in the Central Regulatory Area of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA).
The temporary closure started September 1 at noon, Alaska local time; it is in effect until midnight December 31. The order was signed by Margo B. Schulze-Haugen, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries.
The closure is only for trawl catcher vessels. Hook-and-line, jig and pot fishing are not affected, and the closure does not apply to trawl catcher vessels participating in the cooperative fishery of the Rockfish Program for the Central GOA.
There are important details in this otherwise brief – and somewhat standard – announcement. First, the closure is only for directed fishing, i.e., fishing for a specific fish, in this case Pacific cod. In fact, Pacific cod will still be harvested – but as bycatch, say on an outing for pollock or arrowtooth flounder. That bycatch is allowed but because of the directed fishing prohibition bycatch is now the total allowable catch (TAC) for Pacific cod.
Here are the numbers: On March 1, 2018, NOAA announced its “Final 2018 and 2019 Harvest Specifications for Groundfish” for Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Gulf of Alaska. For trawl vessels, the TAC for Pacific cod in the Central GOA was 2,507 metric tons. However, that sum is reduced by 232 metric tons, a segment apportioned to vessels in the Rockfish Program cooperative fishery. The final 2018 total allowable catch then for Pacific cod is 2,275 metric tons [2,507–232 = 2,275].
In fact, according to Obren Davis, with NOAA’s Sustainable Fisheries Division In-season Management team, based in Juneau, “there is not enough total allowable catch (the annual limit) to account for Pacific cod bycatch, as well as to allow directed fishing for Pacific cod via a ‘directed fishing allowance’” (emphasis added). In other words, 2,275 metric tons is the limit, that’s all there is to be sustainably harvested in the Central GOA – at least according to calculated estimates.
Davis explained that NOAA policy is to give priority to bycatch levels, which are, after all, largely unintended. “NMFS first accounts for anticipated bycatch of a particular species (i.e., Pacific cod) before opening a directed fishing for that species,” Davis explained.
In the August 29th notice Schulze-Haugen writes that NMFS “has determined that the annual allowance of the 2018 Pacific cod TAC apportioned to trawl catcher vessels in the Central Regulatory Area of the GOA is necessary to account for the incidental catch in other anticipated fisheries.” Consequently, the directed fishing allowance becomes zero and NOAA set aside the remaining 2,275 mt as bycatch in order to support other anticipated groundfish fisheries, e.g., pollock.
NOAA’s announcement does not detail the information that prompted the new trawl vessel limit. The recent announcement just tells that “this action responds to the best available information recently obtained from the fishery.” However, the Agency does write that “the most recent, relevant data only became available as of August 22, 2018.” The Agency’s need to act quickly, of course, precluded any time for a public comment period.
These temporary prohibitions are not unusual. Davis, with In-season Management, was asked whether the prohibition carried any general message about Pacific cod populations. He explained, “There is continued accrual of cod catch to the trawl catcher vessel fishery category throughout the year. This has nothing to do with new data but is simply the routine prosecution of various fisheries. I don’t think anything can be inferred from this about the cod population in general.”
For 2018, the trawl catcher vessel annual allocation is the largest among the various fishing types. That sum was 2,507 metric tons, 21 percent of the Central GOA total of 6,089 tons. In contrast, the jig allowance was 61 metric tons (that quantity is set at 1%); total hook-and-line was 1,592 metric tons, all pot operations totaled 1,676 metric tons. Again, except for trawl, those other fishing types are not affected by the four-month prohibition.