Cod, Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl; Seine net; Longline
Capture area — North West Pacific (FAO 61)
Stock area — Japan
Stock detail — North Pacific (Tohoku)
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

There are MSC fisheries in the North East Pacific which represent the best option for Pacific cod. Over the last 20years Japan, like many countries, has significantly reduced its number of fishing vessels, yet the number of actively used vessels is still approximately 100,000, this representing the scale and importance of Japanese fisheries. Some species are managed under an effort or TAC regime, but neither of these apply to Pacific cod. Only one stock, in the North Pacific (Tohoku) prefecture, has received a full quantitative assessment, with the others based on commercial landings. Recommended catch levels have traditionally been exceeded in all Japan's Pacific cod fisheries and there is a lack of regulatory measures to ensure catch and effort are sustainable. Cod stocks have in the past been significantly overfished and large proportion of landed fish are immature, which places additional pressure on stocks. Despite this, available data indicates that cod stocks around Japan are relatively healthy and above lower biomass reference points. Main capture methods are: bottom trawls, Danish seines, bottom longlines and bottom gill nets. For all of these gear types, there are expected interactions with vulnerable species, such as: marine mammals, sharks and seabirds and there is very little information available on the extent of such interactions or any management measures in place to monitor or reduce interactions. There are however, significant closures to protect coastal areas, some cod spawning sites and deep sea habitats from bottom towed gear. br>
MSC certified options from the North East Pacific represent a better choice, but if sourcing from Japan, commercial buyers should specify the need to see demonstrable improvements in monitoring and management of vulnerable species.

Biology

Also known as grey cod. A moderately fast growing, short-lived species. They reach an average length of 19 cm in 1 year. By 12 years they may exceed 89 cm. Females can reach a maximum length of 147 cm and weight 25kg. Males 141 cm and 20kg. Their maximum estimated age is about 18 years. In Japan, Pacific cod can be found in waters off northern Honshu and in all waters surrounding Hokkaido. Because food supply, water temperature, and predation vary significantly between the regions, Pacific cod exhibit variable life spans and growth rates relative to their respective habitats, and appear to grow faster in warmer waters. In all areas except south Hokkaido, Pacific cod have a maximum average lifespan of 8 years and a maximum average length of 8190 cm. Populations off southern Hokkaido live for a maximum average of 6 years and with an average maximum length of 76 cm. Cod prey on clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile fish. In turn, they are eaten by halibut and marine mammals.

Stock information

Stock Area

Japan

Stock information

Total Pacific cod catches in Japan have averaged at approximately 47,500t between 2003 and 2013 and were approximately 60,000t in 2013. The Fisheries Research Agency of Japan (FRA) has categorized Pacific cod into three regions: the North Pacific (Tohoku), Sea of Japan, and Hokkaido. Out of the three regions, the Tohoku stock assessment is the only one derived from scientific research data. Recent stock assessments using both scientific monitoring surveys and commercial fishery statistics show that the Tohoku stock has rebounded to record highs after years of overfishing.

Since 1996, 75%-100% of the catch has been between 1 and 3 years old, suggesting that the fishery is targeting mostly immature fish. The CPUE has remained low from 1975 through 1997, but with dramatic increases during the past decade. Although CPUE statistics have not shown any long-term declines, the stock assessment from 2011 estimated biomass well below the lower limit reference point. The total fish biomass, which was estimated to be only 63,942t in 2011 , has now rebounded to a historic high of 278,945t suggesting the stock is not overfished. Similarly, overfishing is not believed to be occurring, but this could be the result of decreased fishing pressure caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, which crippled this region's fishing fleets. The future of the Tohoku region Pacific cod could be at risk if pre-earthquake fishing pressure recovers.

Management

Over the last 20 years Japan, like many countries, has significantly reduced its number of fishing vessels. The number of registered fishing vessels has gone from 410 350 in 1985 to 276 074 in 2010. Whilst the number actively used is more like 100,000, this is still a staggering number considering the UK has about 6,500 active vessels. Approximately 50,000 (or 30%) of fishers are over 65 years of age. In Japan, most vessels need to be licensed according to the gear used or vessel length or tonnage and roughly fall into three categories: coastal (less than 10t), offshore (10-120t) and distant water. Fisheries for some species are managed under effort or Total Allowable Catch (TAC) regimes, but neither of these apply to Pacific cod. Recommended catch levels are based on an assessed Biological Allowable Catch (ABC) . Based on historical catch levels and scientific estimation for potential catches, the ABC is calculated with the assistance of a group of external experts. Taking into consideration the ABC and the potential social impact on fisheries enterprises, the Fishery Agency determines the annual TAC or recommended catch levels in consultation with the Fisheries Policy Council and relevant Area Fishery Coordinating Committees, as well as with other stakeholders. ABC's are not binding and TACs and recommended catches are often set much higher than the ABC. This is concerning for Pacific Cod in this region which has historically been overfished. Research indicates that a large proportion of landed fish are immature, which may place additional pressure on Pacific cod resources in Japan. It is not clear what gear restrictions and closures are in place for these fisheries, but there are significant closures to protect coastal areas, some cod spawning sites and deep sea habitats from bottom towed gear. There is a moratorium for bottom trawling and Danish seining which extends the entire length of Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in much of Northern Honshu. Seasonal prohibitions also exist for gillnets at several Pacific cod nursing grounds in the North Pacific.

Capture Information

In the North Pacific management region, Pacific cod are caught primarily with bottom trawls and Danish seines, which combine for 75% of the total catch, followed by bottom longlines (18%), bottom gillnets (6%), and trap nets (<1%). The bycatch and retained species caught in the Pacific cod fishery in Japan are generally unknown though discards are expected to be less than 20% of the catch as fishermen are allowed to keep all bycatch. For all of these main gear types, there are expected interactions with vulnerable species, such as: marine mammals, sharks and seabirds but there is very little information available on the extent of such interactions or any management measures in place to monitor or reduce interactions. The effects of these fisheries on the seafloor communities are unclear, but there are significant areas of deep sea and inshore habitat protected against bottom trawling and Danish seines.

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
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola
Pollack or Lythe
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Pouting or Bib
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia
Whiting

References

Chen, E., 2014. Pacific cod, Gadus macrocephalus: Japan. Prepared for Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Available at http://www.seafoodwatch.org/-/m/sfw/pdf/reports/mba_seafoodwatch_japanpacificcodreport.pdf [Accessed July 2015].

European Parliament, 2013. Fisheries in Japan: Note. Available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/529044/IPOL-PECH_NT(2014)529044_EN.pdf [Accessed July 2015].

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2015.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, ( 04/2015 ). Available at http://www.fishbase.org/summary/308 [Accessed July 2015].

Fisheries Agency, 2013. White Paper on Fisheries 2012/2013: Summary. Available at http://www.jfa.maff.go.jp/e/annualreport/pdf/2012_jfa_wp.pdf [Accessed July 2015].

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Japan), 2014. The 87th statistical yearbook of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2013?2014). Available at http://www.maff.go.jp/e/tokei/kikaku/nenji_e/89nenji/index.html#nse011 [Accessed July 2015].