The Council approved the Gulf of Alaska Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final catch specifications for the 2017 and 2018 groundfish fisheries. The Plan Team presentations included stock status updates and a report on the ecosystem SAFE report section. Because there was no summer trawl survey in the GOA in 2016 full assessments were only conducted for GOA pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish, with other species updated using primarily catch data.
The sum of the species’ ABCs for 2017 decreased by 8% (-59,811 t) compared with 2016. This was primarily driven by decreases in pollock -50,541 t (-19%) and Pacific cod -10,258 t (-10 %) ABCs as well as a 9% reduction (-408 t) for dusky rockfish and 5% reduction (218 t) for northern rockfish. Notable increases occurred for sablefish 987 t (+11%), and rex sole +818 t (+11%). All other GOA species’ ABCs change by 2% or less.
For most stocks the Council established TACs equal to ABCs with some exceptions. For Pacific cod the ABC is reduced by 25% in EGOA and CGOA and by 30% in WGOA to accommodate the state managed fishery. Additional exceptions those fisheries where the bycatch of other target species is a concern, specifically for shallow water flatfish (W and Central GOA), flathead sole (W and C GOA), arrowtooth flounder (GOA wide) and other rockfish (EYAK/SEO). For those fisheries, the TAC is also set below the ABC. Specifications for 2017-2018 are posted on the Council’s website. Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.
None of the GOA groundfish stocks are overfished or experiencing overfishing. The abundances of all species except sablefish are above target stock size. Estimated sablefish female spawning stock biomass (91,553 t) is 1% below target stock size (92,606 t).
Whale depredation of sablefish
An important change in the sablefish assessment for this year is the correction for whale depredation that occurs both in the longline survey and the fishery. Sperm whales remove significant numbers of sablefish from the longline gear in the eastern GOA as the gear is being retrieved while killer whales predominantly do this in the western GOA. Total annual depredation in the fisheries is estimated to have ranged between 250 – 800 t. Correcting for this loss in the fishery-independent survey results in a larger biomass estimate than without the correction. The resulting larger GOA and BSAI ABCs, however, are reduced to account for expected removals by whales in 2017 and 2018. Those reductions vary by area according to observed spatial distribution of whale depredation and are reflected in the apportionment of the ABCs.
Prohibited Species Catch Limits:
The Council approved halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, by season and gear apportionment for 2017-2018 and further specified apportionments of the ‘other hook and line fisheries’ annual halibut PSC allowance between the hook-and-line gear catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors following the Pacific cod sector split allocation. The PSC numbers for 2017 and 2018 are unchanged compared to 2016.