Seawatch: NPMC closes cod season in Gulf of Alaska

Seawatch: NPMC closes cod season in Gulf of Alaska

In a disappointing but not surprising move, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council closed the Gulf of Alaska to Pacific cod fishing for the 2020 season at their meeting this month, the first time ever.

The bad news became acute in 2018 when the quota was cut by 80 percent after the 2017 summer trawl survey showed dismal numbers and poor recruitment. The GOA quota went down another 5 percent in 2019.

The future also looks grim for the stocks.

A stock assessment this fall put GOA cod populations at a historic low, with “next to no” new eggs, according to Steven Barbeaux, a research biologist with the NOAA, who spoke with KMXT public radio in Kodiak. At their current numbers, cod are below the federal threshold that protects them as a food source for endangered Steller sea lions. Once below that line the fishery shuts down.

Biologists are mostly blaming warming water temperatures due to climate change, especially the large patch of over-heated water in the North Pacific dubbed the “blob,” rather than over-fishing for the steep decline.

However, when the 2018 quota was announced, some fishermen said that if NOAA did trawl surveys every year instead of every other year, they may have foreseen the crash and adjusted the quota accordingly.

The “blob” first appeared in 2014, and the cod population in the GOA started its decline. Surface water temperatures warmed 4 to 5 degrees and young cod began dying off, according to scientists.

“A lot of the impact on the population was due to that first heat wave that we haven’t recovered from,” Barbeaux said during an interview last month.

Following the first heat wave, cod numbers crashed by more than half, from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 metric tons in 2017.

Things went steadily downhill from there.

“Retrospectively, we probably should have shut the fishery down last year (too),” Barbeaux said.

Cod only enter the fishery at age three, so the environmental effects on the fishery are somewhat delayed. There are now signs of a second warming event. Scientists like Barbeaux say it’s hard to predict what the future of the fishery will look like.

“We’re just well beyond what we’ve ever seen before. It’s this very unusual, warm event,” Mike Litzow, a NOAA fisheries ecologist based in Kodiak, told KMXT. “What the climate scientists are showing us, our best understanding is that this is going to be the new average within a short time frame.”

The GOA closure is expected to put more pressure on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod fishery this year, although the Bering Sea quota is also down 14 percent. The

Aleutian Islands quota remains unchanged.

One thing that the cod crash has done, however, is help allow for an uptick in crab populations around Kodiak, where there will be a limited bairdi Tanner crab fishery this year.

There will be two areas open with a combined quota of 400,000 pounds, the minimum threshold for an opening, and will open Jan. 15.

There will be a 300,000 pound quota in the Eastern District and a 100,000 pounds in the Southeastern District.

Crabbers will be working on the tail end of a 2013 large year class, according to Alaska Fish Radio.

Natura Richardson, area management biologist for ADF&G, told AFR, “We first saw this big cohort from 2013 in the survey, and that’s kind of the cohort that we fished on in 2018 and 2019. And 2020 is probably going to be the last hit on this specific cohort.”

It does not appear that the fishery will be tapering off after this, though, as ADF&G has been following the largest recruitment event they have ever seen in the Westward region, according to Richardson.

“The next pulse in the water has definitely retained. And we saw the next pulse in the survey last year, and we saw them again this year. So we have a lot of hope that they will continue to track through the population,” she said.

The crab also appear to be growing faster than usual.

Cristy Fry can be reached at

More in News

A boat is lifted out of the water at Northern Enterprises Boat Yard on Kachemak Drive. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Northern Enterprise Boat Yard expands business

Northern Enterprises Boat Yard, Inc., the largest privately owned dry dock marina… Continue reading

Krista Schooley (left) testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education on Monday, June 7, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Screenshot)
A ‘groundswell’: Conservative coalition seeks to expand influence on school policy

The vision of KPCCC is to “restructure and build the foundation of the 7 Mountains of Influence in our society through conservative action.”

Setnetters make their way back to the beach near a site on July 11, 2016 near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)
Personal-use setnetting opening Tuesday on Kasilof

The hours for fishing in the restricted area of the Kasilof River on Tuesday are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
‘A lot of work to do’: Officials hope for summer bounce in vaccinations

Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.

A map shows the location of the Loon Lake Fire. (Photo from AK Fire Info).
Flight restriction issued over Loon Lake Fire, now 15% contained

The fire was first reported on Saturday evening.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, talks during an interview in the Empire's offices. During the conversation, Young discussed ongoing infrastructure bill negotiations, the Arctic's strategic importance to the U.S. and why he's seeking a 26th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
The Empire sits down with Rep Young

We hit some of the wavetops of Young’s recent work.

The Alaska Grown logo.
Homer Farmers Market: Don’t forget Wednesday market

Food Hub also is an option for locally grown food.

A sign and road blocker at the head of the Hidden Creek Trail on Skilak Lake Road warns people about bear activity on Sunday, June 13, 2021 in Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Campers kayak to safety after Skilak bear attack

They were at the mouth of Hidden Creek along the shoreline of Skilak Lake

Most Read