The impact to Kodiak of declining numbers of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska are still unknown, but Kodiak harvesters should expect some decrease in total allowable catch, according to a Wednesday discussion of the Kodiak Fisheries Work Group.
“Obviously, there’s going to have to be downward changes in the total allowable catch, or the TAC, for Pacific cod both in the Bering Sea and in the [Gulf of Alaska],” said fisheries analyst Heather McCarty.
Last month, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biologist reported preliminary results of a recent survey that showed a 71 percent decline in Pacific cod abundance in the gulf since 2015, and an 83 percent decline since 2013.
The most likely cause for this decline was a mass of warm water in the Pacific in 2014 and 2015 known as “the blob,” according to the report.
“Cod is used by every gear type. It’s taken by federal participants, it’s taken by state participants, and so it really is one of those fish stocks that feeds everybody throughout the whole system,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank.
According to McCarty, the survey results will still need to go through a modeling process that takes into account a number of factors. Therefore, an estimate of where the total allowable catch will be set cannot yet be forecasted, she said.
“What pops out the other end [of the modeling process] isn’t necessarily a 71 percent downward trend in the actual total allowable catch to match the 71 percent downward trend in the survey, but it will go through the modeling process and come out someplace much lower than now, but maybe not 71 percent,” she said.
“So we can’t just say off the top of our head that it’s going to be 71 percent fewer cod allowed to be caught.”
Once the TAC is determined by the National Pacific Fisheries Management Council, that number will be split between state and federal cod fisheries, and then among gear types, she said.
“We could end up with relatively small numbers in most of the gear type fisheries for cod,” McCarty said.
The impacts will likely last years.
According to Bonney, it takes three to four years for Pacific cod to reach a marketable size.
“With way this cod stock is, we’ve got to have a strong year class recruitment to turn things around,” she said. “We don’t have a strong year class in the system now, so we’ve got to wait until we have that year class before we can start counting down either three or four years to see things turn around.”
Kyle Crow, a Kodiak Island Borough Assembly representative to the workgroup, said it will be important for the city and borough to take the impact of the decline into budget considerations.
Workgroup Chair John Whiddon, a Kodiak city councilor, said city staff has been alerted to expect a decrease in revenues from decreased harvesting and its impact on processor employment, retail sales and other budget factors, but said it is too soon to know what the impact will actually be.
“We can play scenarios, but I think … from a municipal perspective, we need to continue to be conservative (with spending),” he said.
City of Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson said the issue will also be under consideration in the city’s newly formed Economic Development Committee, which meets for the first time on Friday and Saturday.
Until Pacific cod numbers recover, Kodiak fishermen will be required to make up for some of that impact in other fisheries, Bonney said.
Halibut stocks are expected to remain stable or slightly increase, and a Tanner crab harvest could bring some money into the community, she said.
“Basically, what’s going to help is the diversification. As a community, I think we’re fortunate that we have as many commercial fisheries as we do, to try to balance,” Bonney said.