NOAA Fisheries has issued a final rule allocating Pacific cod harvest quota to qualifying groundfish License Limitation Program license holders and qualifying processors, in order to, the agency has said, improve management of the fishery, increase its value and minimize bycatch to the extent practicable.
The final rule, Amendment 122, for groundfish management in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), establishes the new Pacific Cod Trawl Cooperative Program PCTC). The rule was printed in the Federal Register on Aug. 8 and goes into effect on Sept. 7. Fishing under the PCTC program is scheduled to begin on Jan. 20, 2024.
Jon Kurland, NOAA regional administrator for Alaska, noted that PCTC also aims to provide for the sustained participation of fishery-dependent communities, ensure sustainability and viability of the resource, promote safety and stability in both the harvesting and processing sectors, and promote objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
Amendment 122 requires qualifying groundfish License Limitation Program (LLP) participants to form cooperatives to harvest the quota.
NOAA Fisheries noted that over the last several years, total allowable catch for Pacific cod in the BSAI management area has steadily decreased and that the pace of the trawl catcher vessel fishery has contributed to an increasingly shorter season.
This has resulted in decreased value of the fishery and had a negative impact on all participants, including vessels, motherships, shoreside processors and communities. It has also discouraged fishing practices that can minimize bycatch and threatens the sustained viability of the fishery, NOAA officials said.
Pacific cod is the second largest commercial groundfish harvest off Alaska and nearly all of the United States. In 2021, the commercial harvest of Pacific cod totaled 330.4 million pounds and was valued at $86.5 million.
Pacific cod fisheries off Alaska are managed by both NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council under the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Groundfish Fishery Management plan and the Gulf of Alaska Groundfish Fishery Management Plan.
The four stocks of Pacific cod include the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska and Pacific coast. Population status of the species is determined by estimates of spawning biomass, which estimate the number of females in the population able to reproduce.
In Alaska, steps to reduce bycatch of other species during targeted Pacific cod fisheries include prohibited species catch limits, gear type control and modification plus seasonal and geographic restrictions.