Cod, Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pot or creel
Capture area — North East Pacific (FAO 67)
Stock area — Alaska
Stock detail — Aleutian Islands
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: June 2020.

Pacific cod is a low resilience species. This stock is data limited, however, there is no concern for the biomass and no concern for fishing pressure. There is a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for groundfish in the East Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and this fishery has been Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified since 2010. There is a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in place which is set below the overfishing limit (OFL) and acceptable biological catch (ABC) which ensures that overfishing does not take place. Pot fisheries have little environmental impact and bycatch is minor.

Biology

Pacific cod are also known as grey cod. They are found on the shelf edge and upper slope (100-250 m) in the winter, moving to shallower waters (<100 m) in the summer. Pacific cod are a demersal species, found near the sea floor. They are a moderately fast growing, short-lived species, reaching an average length of 19 cm in their first year and have a maximum age of 18 years. Half of the females reach sexual maturity at 4.4 years in the Gulf of Alaska and 4.9 years in the Bering Sea. Females grow significantly faster in the Bering Sea, compared to the Gulf of Alaska. They produce around 1 million eggs. Pacific cod prey includes clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile fish. Their predators generally include halibut and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

This stock is data limited. There is no concern for the biomass and no concern for fishing pressure. In 2020, biomass is estimated to be 80,700 tonnes. However, there is so much untrawlable bottom in the Aleutian Islands that the entire stock cannot be surveyed so survey-based absolute biomass estimates are not available. As the biomass in 2020 is estimated to be the same as in 2019, there is no evidence of a recent drop in biomass and therefore, the stock is not thought to be of concern.

Although Pacific cod has a low resilience to fishing pressure, in 2018, the catch (20,414 tonnes) was lower than the overfishing limit (28,7000 tonnes). In 2020, the overfishing limit (OFL) is 27,400 tonnes, the acceptable biological catch (ABC) is 20,600 tonnes and the TAC is 13,796 tonnes. As the TAC has been set below the OFL and the ABC, there is not thought to be concern for fishing pressure. 

Management

Criterion score: 0 info

The Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for groundfish in the East Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands is prepared by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and managed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This fishery has been Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified since 2010. The certification is due to expire in December 2020, however, it is currently in the assessment process for a new certification which includes East Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska cod.

The FMP encompasses a range of species, which are managed using a suite of management measures to protect the stock and ecosystem. This includes a Total Allowable Catch (TAC), spatial and temporal closures and monitoring through high observer coverage and Vessel Monitoring Systems. The stock status is assessed regularly, with a variety of fishery-dependent and independent survey methods. All vessels in the groundfish fisheries must also have a Federal groundfish license and 100% observer coverage, with 2 observers per vessel. In addition to the federal managed fishery, there is also a ‘parallel fishery’ in state waters that mirrors the federal fishery in terms of seasons, closed areas, bycatch limits, observer coverage and gear types. There is also a responsive harvest control rule is place which is designed to reduce fishing mortality at a rate that anticipates expected declines in year-class strength and to stop fishing when SSB is below the point of recruitment impairment. 

In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, NMFS issues regulations to implement Stellar sea lion protection measures to ensure that groundfish fisheries off Alaska are not likely to jeopardise sea lion populations, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These management measures are designed to disperse fishing effort temporally and spatially to provide protection from potential competition. 

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

At present, Pacific cod in the Aleutian Islands are exploited by a multiple-gear fishery, including trawl, longline, pot and jig components (although catches by jig are very small in comparison to the other three gear types, with an average annual catch of 28 tonnes since 1991). In 2018, longline gear accounts for 16% of the catch, trawl accounts for 50% of the catch and pots account for 34% of the catch.

Pot fisheries have little environmental impact and bycatch is minor. Twenty managed species or species groups are caught in the Aleutian Islands pot fishery, however none are considered to be major species. Yellow Irish lord, North Pacific octopus and sculpins are taken as minor species. There is a well-developed strategy for managing impacts on bycatch, Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species, habitats and the ecosystem. Aleutian Island pot fisheries take very few seabirds, however, Northern fulmars are the most commonly taken followed by auklets and the occasional murre.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

FAO. 2020. Globefish Highlights. A quarterly update on world seafood markets. January 2020 Issue, with Jan-Sep 2019 Statistics. Available at http://www.fao.org/3/ca7968en/CA7968EN.pdf [Accessed on 16.06.2020].

Federal Register. 2014. Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Stellar Sea Lion Protection Measures for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Groundfish Fisheries Off Alaska. A rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 11/25/2014. Available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2014/11/25/2014-27658/fisheries-of-the-exclusive-economic-zone-off-alaska-steller-sea-lion-protection-measures-for-the [Accessed on 17.06.2020].

Federal Register. 2020. Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Inseason Adjustment to the 2020 Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pollock, Atka Mackerel, and Pacific Cod Total Allowable Catch Amounts. A rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 01/02/2020. Available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/02/2019-27757/fisheries-of-the-exclusive-economic-zone-off-alaska-inseason-adjustment-to-the-2020-bering-sea-and [Accessed on 16.06.2020].

Froese, R. and Pauly, D. Editors. 2015. Gadus macrocephalus, Pacific cod. FishBase. Available at https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Gadus-macrocephalus.html [Accessed on 16.06.2020].

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2019. Scientific and Statistical Committee Report to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. December 2nd - 4th, 2019. Available at https://meetings.npfmc.org/CommentReview/DownloadFile?p=290f50a3-b5cd-4848-b774-f19abbc39e2f.pdf&fileName=SSC%20Report%20Dec%202019%20FINAL.pdf [Accessed on 17.06.2020].

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska Groundfish. Available at https://www.npfmc.org/bering-seaaleutian-islands-groundfish/ [Accessed on 12.06.2020].

Thompson, G. G., Spies, I. B. and Palsson, W. A. 2019. 2A. Assessment of the Pacific Cod Stock in the Aleutian Islands. NPFMC Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands SAFE. Available at https://archive.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/docs/2019/AIpcod.pdf [Accessed on 12.06.2020].

Wilson, E., Rice, J., Knapman, P. and Bowen, D. 2020. BSAI and GOA Pacific Cod MSC Reassessment Public Comment Draft Report. MRAG Americas. Available at https://fisheries.msc.org/en/fisheries/bsai-and-goa-pacific-cod/@@assessments [Accessed on 16.06.2020].