The Council approved the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) and recommended final harvest specifications for the 2018 and 2019 GOA groundfish fisheries. The 2017 GOA Groundfish SAFE includes stock status updates for all 24 stocks or stock complexes managed through the GOA Groundfish FMP. The Council also reviewed the Ecosystem Considerations chapter of the GOA SAFE which highlighted a return to more typical ocean temperatures in the Gulf in 2017, compared to the previous three years.
Important changes in the Gulf this year included a very large decrease in the abundance of Pacific cod. According to the Pacific cod stock assessment, the strong 2012 year class of cod that was expected to support the fishery for several years was reduced by unusually high natural mortality caused by a variety of ecosystem stressors during the recent (2014-2016) warm period. As a result, the 2018 allowable biological catch (ABC) for Pacific cod (18,000 mt) is reduced by 80% compared to the 2017 ABC (88,342 mt). A one-page flyer showing the TAC amounts by area, fishery, and season is attached here and posted to the Agenda. Additionally, a 20% decrease in pollock ABC was specified for the Gulf in 2018 based on integration of trawl and acoustic survey data in the updated assessment. (Sablefish, which is assessed for the BSAI and GOA combined is reported on in the BSAI groundfish specifications newsletter item).
The sum of the ABCs for all Gulf groundfish stocks in 2018 is 536,921 mt, which is a reduction of 21% compared to the 2017 (667,877 mt) aggregate ABC. The Council approved maximum permissible ABCs for all stocks in the Gulf in 2018, except for Pacific cod, sablefish, and demersal shelf rockfish. ABC less than the maximum permissible is recommended when a stock needs additional conservation considerations. Differences in the 2018 ABCs compared to 2017 vary among GOA stocks with reductions for eleven stocks, increases for ten stocks, and no change for three stocks (percent change in ABC figure).
Percentage change in ABC, 2017-2018
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 2017 GOA SAFE report
None of the GOA groundfish stocks are overfished or experiencing overfishing (stock status summary figure). Other than Pacific cod and sablefish, all stocks are projected to be above their biomass targets (BMSY or the BMSY proxy, B35%) in 2018. Estimated female spawning stock biomass (SSB) of Pacific cod (36,209 mt) is 46% below target stock size (67,433 mt) and sablefish SSB (88,928 mt) is 4% below target stock size (98,809 mt). The summed biomass estimates for GOA groundfish in 2018 (5,053,276 mt) represent a 16% decrease from the 2017 aggregate biomass (6,036,346 mt).
Prohibited Species Catch Limits
The Council approved halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, by season and gear sector for 2018 and 2019 and specified apportionments of the hook and line halibut PSC allowance between the hook and line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors according to the Pacific cod sector split allocation. The Council also confirmed halibut discard mortality rates (DMRs) for use by in-season management in 2018 and 2019. DMRs were unchanged or decreased for most GOA fisheries, but increased slightly for hook and line catcher vessels and non-pollock, non-rockfish trawl vessels.
Harvest and PSC specifications for the 2018 and 2019 fishing years are posted on the Council’s website here.
Staff contact is Jim Armstrong.