The Council approved the 2021 Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2022 and 2023 GOA groundfish fisheries. For final rulemaking for the 2022 and 2023 fishing years, the Council recommended Overfishing Limits (OFLs) and Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) levels consistent with SSC recommendations, and final Total Allowable Catch (TAC). The Council also recommended halibut Prohibited Species Catch (PSC) limit apportionments and adopted updated halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for 2022. In setting the TACs for 2022 and 2023, the Council accounts for guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for groundfish fisheries in state waters; full details are in included in the Council Motion.
The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Status Report for the GOA, including a 4-page GOA ecosystem brief. The report provided information on ocean conditions, phytoplankton and zooplankton densities, forage fish abundance, and seabird and marine mammal trends. The report highlighted average temperatures for 2021, however, the GOA biological community is still in transition from the marine heatwaves in 2014-2016 and 2019. Examples of species populations that remain reduced include capelin, common murres, Prince William Sound humpback whales, and Pacific cod. A predicted cool phase in 2022 may shed light on how persistent the impacts of previous heatwaves will continue to be. NOAA Fisheries also released a video that captures some of the high points of the ecosystem conditions from the previous year, in efforts to communicate the updated summary of ecosystem information to the broader community.
The 2021 GOA Groundfish SAFE report includes stock status updates for all 20 stocks or stock complexes managed through the GOA Groundfish FMP. The GOA SAFE report forms the basis for GOA groundfish harvest specifications for the next two fishing years. Based on consideration of stock prioritization including assessment methods and data availability, some stocks are assessed on an annual basis while others are assessed less frequently. Full assessments were produced for all stocks in the GOA in 2021 with the following exceptions: partial assessments were produced for flathead sole, deepwater flatfish, northern rockfish, and dusky rockfish, and no assessments were produced for thornyhead rockfish nor sharks. For these exceptions, specifications were rolled over from the previous assessment for that stock.
The GOA Groundfish Plan Team report summarized the issues discussed and actions taken by the Plan Team at its virtual November meeting. Highlights of the GOA Plan Team report included stock assessment presentations from individual assessment authors and authors of the Ecosystem and Socioeconomic Profiles (ESPs) for GOA pollock and Pacific cod. Some of the issues that pertain to GOA Groundfish, such as sablefish and the draft Economic SAFE, are covered in the Joint Plan Team Report.
The SSC recommended 2022 and 2023 OFLs and ABCs and provided guidance on many of the assessments in its draft SSC report. Maximum permissible ABCs were set for all stocks in the GOA in 2020, except for sablefish, dusky rockfish, and demersal shelf rockfish (DSR). ABC less than the maximum permissible is recommended when there are additional conservation considerations that are not accounted for in the stock assessment, tier system, or harvest control rules. Overall, the status of stocks in the GOA continue to appear favorable. No stocks are experiencing overfishing or are overfished. Most stocks are above BMSY or the BMSY proxy of B35% with the exception of Pacific cod.
The GOA Pacific cod stock remains at low levels, but recent trends show modest improvement from 2019 and 2020. The spawning biomass is projected to have increased in 2021 and continue to increase in 2022. The 2022 Federal GOA Pacific cod Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is 24,111 mt. An additional 8,700 mt are reserved for the State fishery.
Summary of Gulf of Alaska stock status next year (spawning biomass relative to BMSY; horizontal axis) and current year catch relative to fishing at FMSY (vertical axis). Note that sablefish is for Alaska-wide values including the BSAI catches.
For most stocks, the Council established TACs equal to ABCs. Exceptions where the TAC is set below ABC include pollock, Pacific cod, shallow water flatfish in the Western GOA, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole in Western and Central GOA, other rockfish in the Eastern GOA, and Atka mackerel.
Staff contact is Sara Cleaver.