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MARKET REPORT | BUYING TIPS | HEALTH / NUTRITION
After bottoming out at about $1.25/lb., the average price of H&G longline frozen Alaska cod has steadily increased to about $1.75/lb. this winter. Prices received another upward jolt late last fall, when fisheries managers announced this year’s Barents Sea cod quota was being slashed 10% to about 900,000 metric tons.
This year’s supply of cod from Alaska will be up slightly to about 315,000 metric tons due to a 17% bump in the Gulf of Alaska quota to about 75,000 metric tons. The Bering Sea quota was reduced about 7,000 metric tons to 240,000 metric tons.
While Alaska fishermen would like to see the prices they get back up near the $2/lb. level they were getting two years ago, they are not complaining. The 50% drop in fuel prices since June has been a huge bonanza that has lowered their costs considerably.
2/3 of all Pacific cod is landed in Alaska; most of that is trawl-caught. The quality of this fish can vary substantially depending on how well it was handled at sea. The highest quality is produced by freezer longliners, which process fish on board a short time after bringing it aboard.Factory trawlers can produce a high-quality product as well, if tows are short and fish is processed promptly. Most Alaskan trawlers delivering to shore-based processing plants hold their fish in refrigerated seawater tanks. Since the fish is not bled, its meat is normally not as white.
Pacific cod has a higher moisture content than Atlantic cod and for that reason is not considered as good for breaded and battered fried applications. In other applications Pacific cod is a substitute for Atlantic cod and lingcod.
There are no food safety or contaminant concerns with Pacific cod.
SUMMARY | BIOLOGY | HABITAT
A mild-tasting whitefish, Pacific cod have been fished commercially in Alaska waters off and on since the 19th century. Cod was heavily harvested in this area by Japanese and Russian fisheries in the 1970s and 1980s. With the passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976, the United States regained control of its waters and phased out foreign and joint-venture fishing for cod by 1991.
Today, Pacific cod supports one of the largest and most valuable fisheries in the United States. The majority of U.S. Pacific cod catches are from Alaska waters. Pacific cod is the second highest commercial groundfish catch off Alaska, behind pollock. Alaska fisheries for Pacific cod account for more than two-thirds of the world’s Pacific cod supply, and are considered among the best managed fisheries in the world. Pacific cod harvests from the U.S. West Coast average only 1 percent of total U.S. harvest. Total landings of Pacific cod in 2010 were nearly 540 million pounds, an increase of about 10 percent from 2009.
Pacific cod have a relatively short life of less than 20 years. They grow quickly, up to over 6 feet in length (although cod of this size are rare). Females are able to reproduce when they’re 4 to 5 years old (between 1.6 and 1.9 feet in length). Depending on their location, Pacific cod spawn from January through May on the shelf edge and upper slope in water 330 to 820 feet deep. They’re typically fertile; in fact, female cod can produce over 1 million eggs. After eggs are fertilized, they sink to the bottom and larvae begin to hatch within a month.
Pacific cod school together and move seasonally from deep outer and upper shelf areas where they spawn to shallow middle-upper shelf feeding grounds. They feed on clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, and juvenile fish. Halibut, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals prey on Pacific cod. Pacific cod is also a major part of the diet of Steller sea lions.
Pacific cod are also known as grey cod because of their coloring – they’re brown or grayish with dark spots or patterns on the sides and a paler belly. They have a long chin barbell (a whisker-like organ near the mouth, like on a catfish) and dusky fins with white edges.
Pacific cod are found in the coastal North Pacific Ocean, from the Bering Sea to Southern California in the east and to the Sea of Japan in the west. Pacific cod are less common south of Northern California and are rare in Southern California. Pacific cod live on the shelf edge and upper slope in waters 300 to over 800 feet deep during the winter and move to shallower waters (less than 300 feet deep) in the summer. Larvae and small juveniles are found throughout the water column; large juveniles and adults live near the ocean floor and prefer habitats of mud, sand, and clay.
FISHERY SCIENCE | FISHERY MANAGEMENT
In Alaska, scientists and managers determine the population status of Pacific cod based on estimates of “spawning biomass,” a measure of the number of females in the population that are able to reproduce. Estimated biomass has fluctuated over the past few decades – the stock increased rapidly, peaked in the 1980s, then declined slightly and stabilized. Both Alaska stocks are near their target population levels, and biomass is projected to increase further in the next few years. The West Coast population of Pacific cod has never been formally assessed. Pacific cod are rarely available in this area in large numbers. Changes in climate may be affecting the abundance of Pacific cod. Scientists at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State University are working together to determine how climate change could impact growth and development of young Pacific cod in the Bering Sea. They will examine how temperature differences influence the timing and size of plankton blooms in the Bering Sea, which help determine the quality of habitat for Pacific cod.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council develops regulations for the Alaska Pacific cod fisheries; the Pacific Fishery Management Council develops regulations for the fisheries off Washington and Oregon. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for approving and implementing these regulations.
In Alaska waters, Pacific cod fisheries are managed separately, but similarly, in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and in the Gulf of Alaska. Fishermen must have a permit to participate in these fisheries, and the number of available permits is limited to control the amount of fishing. Every year, managers determine how much Pacific cod can be caught and then allocate this catch quota among groups of fishermen. Catch is monitored through record keeping, reporting requirements, and observer monitoring.
Pacific cod are rarely available in large numbers to be caught in the groundfish fishery off the West Coast. Managers use recent historical harvest numbers to set precautionary limits on annual catch for this population. The West Coast groundfish trawl fishery is now managed under a trawl rationalization catch share program.
SPECIES VULNERABILITY | ABUNDANCE | HABITAT IMPACTS | BYCATCH | MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS
Pacific cod grows relatively fast and can produce several hundred thousand eggs per year, making it more resilient to fishing pressure, although it does form dense spawning aggregations that make large catches more likely.
Pacific cod abundance fluctuates but its populations in the Gulf of Alaska as well as the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands are considered good at a medium level. Climate change could be having an impact on abundance so research is ongoing in this area.
Most Pacific cod is caught using bottom longlines and trawlers. This trawling does moderate damage to ocean habitats, particularly deep water corals that are important fish habitats. Pot and jig gear are also used to a lesser extent, which have minimal impacts.
Bottom longlines in this fishery do accidentally catch endangered and threatened seabirds. About 15,000 seabirds are killed by Pacific cod fishing gear annually, according to the Blue Ocean Institute. However, management measures enacted in 2004 are shown to be successfully reducing this bycatch. Bycatch is also reduced with the use of pots instead of bottom trawlers, although they only make up about 10% of the gear used in the Alaskan Pacific cod fishery, where most of the fish is caught.
Management in the Alaskan Pacific cod fishery is considered to be effective, including catch limits, observer counts, closures, and permits. Pacific cod is a major part of the diet for endangered Stellar sea lions so a series of closures in the North Pacific have been implemented to minimize the impact. Pacific cod from Japan and Russia lacks effective management and there are few records for population status of these stocks, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There is also documentation of illegal fishing in Russia, but not enough management to address it effectively.
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