The Council approved the 2018 Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2019 and 2020 GOA groundfish fisheries. Harvest and prohibited species catch (PSC) specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are available here.
The 2018 GOA Groundfish SAFE report includes stock status updates for all 23 stocks or stock complexes managed through the GOA Groundfish FMP. No harvest specifications were set for squid for the upcoming years since that stock complex has been moved to the ecosystem component category. The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the GOA, which differentiates between the Eastern and Western GOA. The report highlighted closer to average conditions in 2018 following the marine heatwave of 2014-2016 and provided information of zooplankton densities as well as forage fish, seabird and marine mammal trends.
The GOA Pacific cod stock continues to be at a low biomass level since the large decrease in the abundance that was described in the 2017 SAFE report. According to the 2018 update of the Pacific cod stock assessment, environmental conditions in early 2018 were improved for survival of age 0 Pacific cod; however, fall 2018 surface temperatures suggest the advent of a further heatwave, albeit not as intense as that which occurred in 2014-2016. Climate models predict a 70% probability of an El Niño in the 2018-2019 winter season, which corresponds to poor conditions for age-0 survival. Precautionary management of Pacific cod by the Council continued for 2019 and 2020 with TACs set at levels that are consistent with maintaining spawning biomass above the B20% threshold.
The sum of the ABCs for all Gulf groundfish stocks in 2019 is 509,507 mt, which is a reduction of 5% compared to the 2018 (536,921 mt) aggregate ABC. The Council approved maximum permissible ABCs for all stocks in the Gulf in 2018, except for pollock, Pacific cod, sablefish, and demersal shelf rockfish. ABC less than the maximum permissible is recommended when a stock needs additional conservation considerations. A risk table associated with reductions from maxABC was applied by assessment authors for pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish in the 2018 SAFE and the GOA Groundfish Plan Team and the Council’s SSC will continue to explore appropriate reductions from maxABC in future harvest specification exercises. Differences in the 2019 ABCs compared to 2018 vary among GOA stocks with reductions for eight stocks, increases for seven stocks, and no change for eight stocks.
For most stocks, the Council established TACs equal to ABCs. Exceptions, where the TAC is set below ABC, include fisheries where bycatch may be a concern, specifically, shallow water flatfish and flathead sole in Western and Central GOA, arrowtooth flounder (GOA wide), and other rockfish (East Yakutat and Southeast Outside). For Pacific cod, ABC is reduced by 25% in Eastern and Central GOA and by 30% in Western GOA to accommodate State-managed fisheries; and for pollock, ABC is reduced by 2.5% for the State’s Prince William Sound fishery.
Stock Status Summary from the 2018 GOA SAFE report
None of the GOA groundfish stocks are overfished or experiencing overfishing (see stock status figure). Other than Pacific cod and sablefish, all stocks are projected to be above their biomass targets (BMSY or the BMSY proxy, B35%) in 2019. Estimated female spawning stock biomass (SSB) of Pacific cod (34,701 mt) is 50% below target stock size (68,896 mt) while sablefish SSB (96,687 mt) is 17% below target stock size (116,738 mt). The summed biomass estimates for GOA groundfish in 2019 (5,005,262 mt) represent a 1% decrease from the 2018 aggregate biomass (5,053,276 mt).
Prohibited Species Catch Limits:
The Council approved halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, by season and gear sector, for 2019 and 2020 and specified apportionments of the hook and line (HAL) halibut PSC allowance between the HAL catcher vessel and HAL catcher/processor sectors according to the Pacific cod sector split allocation. For 2019, the Council is moving 50 mt of trawl sector halibut PSC from the shallow to the deep water species complex and is changing the 4th halibut PSC season start date from September 1 to August 1. This is intended to provide flexibility for the trawl fleet and for processing plants by providing access to alternative target species given the low availability of Pacific cod and salmon in the GOA. The Council will evaluate the efficacy of the adjustment when GOA groundfish harvest specifications are addressed again in 2019. The Council also approved halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for use by in-season management in 2019 and 2020.
Harvest and PSC specifications for the 2019 and 2020 fishing years are posted on the Council’s website.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.