The federal cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska is closing for the 2020 season in an extraordinary response to the historically low numbers of Pacific cod.
The decision came as little surprise, reported Friday, but it is the first time that the fishery has closed due to low stock concerns.
“We’re on the verge of this overfished status on the knife,” said Nicole Kimball, member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, during talks in Anchorage.
To blame for the die-off, it’s not over-fishing, but climate change.
According to Steven Barbeaux, a research biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who authored the report, a stock assessment this fall put Gulf cod populations at a historic low, with “next to no” new eggs. Cod is below the federal level at their current numbers, which preserves them as a source of food for threatened steller sea lions. Once the cumulative permissible capture is below the line, it goes to zero. The fishery is shutting down, in other words.
The cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska was doing well until the emergence of a marine heatwave known as “the blob” in 2014. But the heat wave caused a 4-5 degree rise in ocean temperatures.
Following the first heat wave, cod numbers crashed by more than half, from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 metric tons in 2017.
The decline was steady from there.