Cod, Pacific Cod

Gadus macrocephalus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Pacific (FAO 67)
Stock area — Alaska
Stock detail — Bering Sea
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Cod, Pacific Cod

Sustainability rating one info

Sustainability overview

Updated: June 2020.

This stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. 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. The trawl fishery generally occurs over sand, mud and/or cobble substrates and presents relatively minimal bycatch of sessile epibenthic fauna.

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 info

This stock is in a good state and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. In 2020, the projected total (age 0+) biomass is 751,708 tonnes and the projected female spawning biomass is 259,509 tonnes. Reliable estimates of reference points related to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) are not available but B35% and B40% are regarded as reference points that trigger the harvest control rule. In this assessment, NPFMC assessors define MSY as B35%. In 2020, B35% is predicted to be 233,277 tonnes which is below the projected female spawning biomass and therefore, the biomass is thought to be in a good state.

In the East Bering Sea, the total catch of Pacific cod has been less than the overfishing limit (OFL) in every year since 1993. OFL is the proxy used as Fmsy and in 2020, the OFL is 185,650 tonnes and the acceptable biological catch is 155,873 tonnes. As the total allowable catch (TAC) has been set below this, at 141,779 tonnes for 2020, and there is no evidence of the TAC being exceeded, the fishing pressure on this stock is thought to be within sustainable limits. 

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: 0.5 info

At present, Pacific cod in the East Bering Sea 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 less than 200 tonnes since 1992). On average, longline gear accounts for 53% of the catch, trawl accounts for 30% of the catch and pots account for 17% of the catch. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod trawl fishery generally occurs over sand, mud and/or cobble substrates and presents relatively minimal bycatch of sessile epibenthic fauna.

Overall, in this fishery, discard rate is around 0.96% but this varies per capture in method. In 2018, trawl fishing discarded around 0.33% of the total catch. Forty-four managed species are caught in the trawl fishery for Pacific cod in the Eastern Bering Sea, however these are mostly minor species and occur at trace levels (<0.05%) of the total catch. Many of the bycatch species are managed under the groundfish management plan and minor species include yellowfin sole, rock sole, flathead sole, Arrowtooth flounder, Alaska plaice, starry flounder and pollock.

There is a well-developed strategy for managing impacts on bycatch, Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species, habitats and the ecosystem. Catches of ringed seal and Stellar sea lion are of concern, however, NOAA lists the Bering Sea cod trawl fishery as a category III fishery, which means that there is “remote likelihood of or no known incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals”. Additionally, seabird bycatch is thought to be low. Northern fulmar is the only main species occasionally taken in this fishery, with an average of only 11 birds per year in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

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. and Thorson, J. T. 2019. 2. Assessment of the Pacific Cod Stock in the Eastern Bering Sea. NPFMC Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands SAFE. Available at https://archive.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/docs/2019/EBSpcod.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].