Cod stocks are rebounding in the Gulf of Alaska after bottoming out due to a multi-year heat wave that wiped out several year classes.
No fishery occurred this year in federally managed waters from three to 200 miles out, and a catch of less than six million pounds was allowed in state waters out to three miles.
For 2021, the federal cod catch will be just over 38 million pounds and nearly 11.7 million pounds for the state. But while it’s a nice bump up, cod abundance is still very low.
“The state waters GHLs (guideline harvest levels) have gone up about two and half times since last year. Again, last year was a very low abundance level for cod so this increase, while it’s good, we are still at a very low level of abundance, so that should be kept in mind.”
Nat Nichols is area manager for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak.
“The models for at least the last year or two have predicted that 2020 would be the low point in abundance and then, based on assumptions of average natural mortality and average recruitment, the stock would begin rebounding beginning in 2021. The model and other indices are still seeing rebounds in cod numbers, not really large dramatic rebounds, but steady incremental growth which is good.”
The state cod fish catches are apportioned in five Gulf regions based on the federal harvest guidelines.
Fisheries at Kodiak, Cook Inlet and Chignik pull 25% from the Central Gulf allowable catch, Prince William Sound gets 25% from the Eastern Gulf, and the South Peninsula fishery takes 30% from the Western Gulf federal cod allocation.
That’s then broken up into shares for different fishing gears.
“For the most part, it’s pot and jig gear in the state waters cod fishery with pot gear generally taking more. The one exception is Prince William Sound where they have a state waters longline fishery.”
Each fishery has opening dates ranging from January 1 into March.
Nichols added that one reason cod numbers have ticked up was due to the closure in the Gulf regions that produce the bulk of the fish.
“One of the other factors that is contributing to the increased numbers this year is the fact that there were no federal fisheries last year and there were reduced state fisheries. So just by the function of leaving many, many thousands of tons of cod in the water last year you get more cod in the assessment this year.”
Due to the Covid pandemic, fishery managers are making efforts to streamline the process of registering for the cod fishery to minimize contact. Nichols says to contact the Kodiak ADF&G office with any questions. (907-486-1840)
2021 AK state waters cod catches
Kodiak 3,763,252 pounds
Chignik 2,634,277 pounds
South AK Peninsula 5,281,781 pounds
Numbers for Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound will be released soon from the Homer ADF&G office