FISHERY IMPACTS ON STOCK | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Fishery Impacts on Stock
Pacific cod is fished off the West Coast of the U.S. as well as in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Japan. It grows quickly and can produce several hundred thousand eggs per year, making it resilient to fishing pressure, although it does form dense spawning aggregations that make large catches more likely. Overall inherent vulnerability is a moderate concern, according to Seafood Watch.
Pacific cod abundance has fluctuated, but the most recent stock assessments for the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska showed that it was not overfished and overfishing was not occurring. The West Coast stock has never been formally assessed because the numbers are rarely big enough, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Seafood Watch reports from 2014 for Pacific cod noted a lack of independent Pacific cod stock assessments for Japan, and uncertainty about whether surveys and stock assessments conducted in Russia are scientifically independent.
The majority of Pacific cod in the U.S. and Canada is caught along with other groundfish using trawlers and bottom longlines. Trawling can do moderate damage to ocean habitats, particularly deep-water corals and sea whips. Seafood Watch noted that the U.S. and Canadian Pacific cod fisheries have spatial restrictions limiting the use of bottom trawl gear in order to mitigate the impact. Pot and jig gear are also used to a lesser extent, and they have minimal impacts.
In Japan, Pacific cod are caught with gear that includes Danish seines and bottom trawls. While data on the habitat impact is sparse, Seafood Watch reported in 2014 that fishing moratoriums offer protection for deep-sea habitats there. Pacific cod in Russia are caught using bottom trawl, longline, gillnet, and seine gear. A 2014 Seafood Watch report noted concerns about the effects of trawling on sensitive substrate in the Russian fishery.
Extent of Bycatch
Bottom longlines in this fishery have accidentally caught endangered and threatened seabirds, but measures that include the Seabird Bycatch Reduction Program in Alaska and bycatch monitoring through the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program are having an impact, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. Bycatch is also reduced with the use of pots, although they make up a small percentage of the gear used.
Bycatch data in the Japanese Pacific cod fishery is poor and not collected by a regulatory agency or research organization, according to a 2014 Seafood Watch report. Lack of data in the Russian Pacific cod fishery, along with concerns about marine mammal bycatch, led Seafood Watch to give the fishery a critical rating in 2014 for that criterion.
The U.S. West Coast cod fishery falls under the non-hake groundfish fishery, which has management that is considered strong according to a 2014 Seafood Watch report. The report also cites measures that include biomass reference points, harvest control rules, and catch limits. Management in the Alaskan Pacific cod fishery is considered to be highly effective and includes catch limits, observer counts, closures, and permits.
Seafood Watch considers the Canadian Pacific cod fishery management moderately effective. Despite some strong points, a 2014 report noted challenges with management strategy, implementation, and recovery of stocks of concern in the British Columbia groundfish fishery.
The Fisheries Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries manages Pacific cod in Japan. Although bottom trawling and Danish seining are banned in coastal areas, Seafood Watch noted a general lack of management and expressed high concern about bycatch in a 2014 report.
In Russia, the Federal Fisheries Agency oversees the Pacific cod fishery. Management measures include setting total allowable catch levels, collecting scientific data, and restricting gear. While there has been documentation of illegal fishing, Seafood Watch noted that several changes to the law improved Russia’s enforcement capabilities. Data unavailability in general continues to be a concern, according to Seafood Watch.