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 — Gulf of Alaska
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) - Suspended
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: June 2020.

In the Gulf of Alaska, very warm waters are having a large negative effect on recruitment and may be reducing adult survival. At the current numbers, cod biomass is just above the “overfished level”. However, there is no concern for the level of fishing pressure. Federal regulations have required the directed fishery for Pacific cod to be closed (TAC of zero for the directed federal fishery) for 2020-2021 due to Stellar sea lion conservation measures. In 2020, there is still a small TAC available for Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska of 6,431 tonnes for incidental catch in other fisheries and the state fishery which operates at 0-3nm (guideline harvest limit of 2,537 tonnes). Pot fisheries have little impact on the environment and have very little bycatch. There is a well-developed strategy in place for managing impacts on bycatch Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species.

Biology

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

In the Gulf of Alaska, very warm waters are having a large negative effect on recruitment and may be reducing adult survival as well. Following the first heat wave, cod numbers declined by more than half from 113,830 tonnes in 2014 to 46,080 tonnes in 2017. Subsequently, in both 2018 and 2019, harvests were reduced by 80% to encourage recovery. A stock assessment in autumn 2019 put Gulf cod populations at a historic low, with “next to no” new eggs. At the current numbers, cod biomass is just above the “overfished level” of B17.5% and therefore, there is concern for stock level. Early indicators based on age-0 abundance estimates suggest that the 2017 and 2018 year classes may be strong. However, data shows that the stock was likely below B20% since 2018 and will remain below until 2021. Long-term warming in the Gulf of Alaska and a predicted increase in the frequency of heatwave events means that conditions will likely become increasingly unfavourable for Pacific cod.

As the stock is below the B20% threshold, Federal regulations have required the directed fishery for Pacific cod to be closed (TAC of zero for the directed federal fishery) for 2020-2021 due to Stellar sea lion conservation measures. In 2020, there is still a small TAC available for Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska of 6,431 tonnes for incidental catch in other fisheries and the state fishery which operates at 0-3nm (guideline harvest limit of 2,537 tonnes). In 2020, fishing pressure is below Fmsy and is therefore thought to be harvested sustainably. 

Management

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Very warm waters in the Gulf of Alaska are having a large negative effect on recruitment and may be affecting adult survival. While the harvest control rules in place for this stock are robust and are being implemented effectively, it has not prevented the stock from declining. Current environmental conditions may allow a rapid recovery of the stock, however, recovery depends on environmental conditions in the early 2020s. Whilst the management of the stock cannot stop natural variation, the performance of the fishery has been adapted annually to respond to the impacts of environmental factors. NOAA made the decision to close the fishery after research found the available biomass would not likely be able to handle fishing pressure. However, there is evidence to suggest that the fishery should have been closed a year earlier following 2018 stock assessments. Under federal regulations, if directed fishing on a given stock would push available biomass below 40%, the area is closed to fishing. However, there is still a small fishery in place for the state fishery and other indirect fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska federal fishery where Pacific cod may be caught as bycatch. 

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of this stock was suspended in April 2020. The suspension is not due to overfishing or a lack of responsible management, but due to climate driven change. However, both the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska cod fisheries are currently undergoing re-assessment to the MSC standard. 

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

The pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska is exploited by a multiple-gear fishery, including trawl, longline, pot and jig components. Trawl, longline and pot fisheries take around a third of the total catch each, with jig gear catching less than 300 tonnes per year. There is a lack of sediment data, however it is thought that the trawl fishery generally occurs over sand, mud and/or cobble substrates and the pot fishery has little impact on the benthic habitat.

Bycatch in pot fisheries is minor. An average of 45 northern fulmars are taken each year, along with a handful of other species. There is also a well-developed strategy in place for managing impacts on bycatch Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species. NOAA does not list any specific marine mammal species at risk in the pot fishery although the fishery is listed as a Category III fishery, which means that there is “occasional incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals.”

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

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2019. 2020 Gulf of Alaska State-Waters Pacific Cod Guideline Harvest Levels and Season Dates. Advisory Announcement. Available at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/applications/dcfnewsrelease/1129745294.pdf [Accessed on 12.06.2020].

Barbeaux, S., Aydin, K., Fissel, B., Holsman, K., Laurel, B., Palsson, W., Rogers, L., Shotwell, K., Yang, Q. and Zador, S. 2019. Gulf of Alaska, Pacific cod. NOAA Fisheries. Available at https://meetings.npfmc.org/CommentReview/DownloadFile?p=3b77f86a-2be2-41ee-a2fe-55e2866950be.pdf&fileName=PRESENTATION%20GOA%20PCOD_Council.pdf [Accessed on 17.06.2020].

Barbeaux, S., Aydin, K., Fissel, B., Holsman, K., Laurel, B., Palsson, W., Rogers, L., Shotwell, K., Yang, Q. and Zador, S. 2019a. Chapter 2: Assessment of the Pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska. NPFMC Gulf of Alaska SAFE. Available at https://archive.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/docs/2019/GOApcod.pdf [Accessed on 17.06.2020].

Cherry, D. 2020. Marine Stewardship Council certificate pulled from Pacific cod fishery. Intrafish. Fisheries. Available at https://www.intrafish.com/fisheries/marine-stewardship-council-certificate-pulled-from-pacific-cod-fishery/2-1-769081 [Accessed on 16.06.2020].

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].

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].

Laurel, B.J. and Rogers, L.A., 2020. Loss of spawning habitat and prerecruits of Pacific cod during a Gulf of Alaska heatwave. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 77(4), pp.644-650. Available at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/99406/1/cjfas-2019-0238.pdf. [Accessed on 16.06.2020].

North Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2019. Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska. Available at https://www.npfmc.org/wp-content/PDFdocuments/fmp/GOA/GOAfmp.pdf [Accessed on 17.06.2020]. North Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2019. Meeting Summary, 247th Plenary Session. Available at https://meetings.npfmc.org/CommentReview/DownloadFile?p=653a6082-5f01-471e-b412-bab6bce03d9c.pdf&fileName=Council%20Summary%20December%202019.pdf [Accessed on 17.06.2020].

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].

NPR. 2019. Alaska Cod Fishery Closes and Industry Braces For Ripple Effect. Available at https://www.npr.org/2019/12/08/785634169/alaska-cod-fishery-closes-and-industry-braces-for-ripple-effect?t=1584372295286 [Accessed on 12.06.2020].

SitNews. 2020. MSC certification of Gulf of Alaska Cod suspended, remains for the Bering Sea and Aleutians; RFM certification remains in place. Available at http://www.sitnews.us/0320News/030920/030920_alaska_cod.html [Accessed on 12.06.2020].