The trawler IFQ program begins in January 2024
Related story by Alaska Beacon: New quota system to start for trawl harvests of cod in Bering Sea and Aleutians
Commercial fishermen netting Pacific cod from the Bering Sea and Aleutians region will be working under new individual limits starting next year designed to ease pressure on harvests that regulators concluded were too rushed, too dangerous and too prone to accidentally catch untargeted fish species.
The new system will require fishers who harvest cod by trawl – the net gear that scoops up fish swimming near the bottom of the ocean – to be part of designated cooperatives that will then have assigned quota shares. The fisheries service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it has notified eligible participants and is asking for applications.
The cod-trawling program, to start next January, is the first new fishery quota system started since 2012 in federal waters off Alaska, according to NOAA Fisheries.
The Pacific cod harvest is the second-biggest commercial groundfish catch in the waters off Alaska, after pollock, according to NOAA Fisheries. The 2021 commercial harvest totaled 330.4 million pounds and was worth $86.5 million, according to NOAA Fisheries
Pacific cod is harvested by three gear types: longline, which catches fish with hooks arrayed on lines; pot and jig gear, which traps fish; and trawl nets. In the Gulf of Alaska, pot and jig gear dominate the Pacific cod harvest, while longline gear dominates the harvest in the Bering Sea and trawling is the method most used to harvest Pacific cod in the Aleutians, according to NOAA Fisheries.
A quota system has been in effect for several years for longline harvests of Pacific cod, and the total allowed cod catch is already divvied up among the various categories of harvesters through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process.
While the system to go into effect in January for trawl-caught cod in the Bering Sea and Aleutians is new, numerous other harvests of fish in federal waters off Alaska have previously been converted from open-access systems to quota systems through a process sometimes referred to as “rationalization.”
Through rationalization, maximum catches limits are assigned to specific harvesters through quota shares, replacing systems where participants are allowed to catch as much fish as they can until the season’s limit is reached by the full fleet.
The resulting quota systems are referred to by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as Limited Access Privilege Programs.
The idea of converting Bering Sea and Aleutian trawl harvests of Pacific cod to this type of system started as early as 2019, when the council was contending with a crash of Pacific cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska. The council in 2021 recommended creation of the new system. The final rule for it was published on Aug. 8.
Managers concluded that numerous conditions warranted the change, said NOAA Fisheries spokesperson Julie Fair.
“This Program would provide incentives to increase the length of the directed fishing season and allow deliveries to be distributed over a longer timeframe, which would benefit both harvesters and processors,” Fair said by email.
Among the conditions prompting the change are a decline in the total allowable Pacific cod catch and an increase in the number of licensed harvesters and associated vessels, along with “the compressed length of the fishery in recent years, the decreased product quality caused by a race for fish in recent years, need to minimize bycatch, and safety concerns,” she said.
Bycatch is the incidental harvest of untargeted species.
The new quota system is applicable only to trawl harvests of Pacific cod in about the first half of the year, the periods referred to as the A and B seasons. The A season runs from Jan. 20 to April 1 and the B season runs from April 1 to June 10. There is a smaller C season that runs until Nov. 1, but it is not part of the new program.
The new system is supported by trawling industry groups.
The deadline to submit applications for the new quota system is Oct. 10, NOAA Fisheries said.