SEAFOODNEWS.COM by John Sackton – November 30, 2015
Much of the media coverage of global fisheries conveniently leaves out the experience of the North Pacific, site of the largest global groundfish fisheries in the world. Once again, as the N. Pacific Council prepares to set TAC’s for the Bering Sea in 2016, the scientific surveys show biomass at near record levels.
Pollock alone is estimated to have a stock abundance in the US zone of over 11 million metric tons. From this stock, a harvest of 1.3 to 1.4 million tons is likely. Pacific cod has a biomass of 1.83 million tons up 8% from 2015 when the TAC was set at 240,000 tons. Yellowfin sole and arrowtooth flounder, the most abundant flatfish, have a 2016 biomass of 2.086 million tons, and .910 million tons respectively. Both stocks are up marginally from 2015. Rock sole is at 1.08 million tons, down from 1.233 millon tons in 2015, where the TAC was set at 69250 tons, and the actual catch was 45,350 tons. The Allowable biological catch from these species in 2016 would be 3.236 million tons, and 3.128 millon tons in 2017.
However, the Bering Sea Fisheries are managed with a 2 million ton cap, meaning that the Council will have to allocate harvests among sectors and species to stay within this cap. This has meant higher allocations for pollock and cod, which historically have dominated N. pacific groundfish, and lower allocations for the flatfish complex, made up of a mix of valuable and less valued species.
The North Pacific Council will be meeting the week of December 6th to make these groundfish allocations for the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, based on the comprehensive data from the groundfish plan team.
Although producers focus on the specific numbers, ie will there be 50,000 tons more pollock, or 25,000 tons more cod, the big picture is that these stocks are all well above the levels at which they produce maximum sustainable yield. Pollock for example, is 78% over its MSY level.
Harvests are often below the allowable TAC’s, especially on species other than pollock and cod. The economics of fishing means that many fish that could be safely and sustainably harvested are left in the water. This points to the conservatism of American fishery management practices.
Although other areas in the United States have not adopted the same 2 million ton cap as exists in the North Pacific, the fact that so much fish is underharvested, ie. left in the water due to economic or regulatory reasons, allows these stocks to benefit in the same manner. The result is that under US fisheries management, fishing pressure is virtually elminated as a cause of stock fluctuations. Let’s hope this fact is heard in the wider public debate about fishing practices that is being driven by NGOs.