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Home » The Human Element » No, there aren’t plenty of fish in the sea. Alaska cod fishery closes
Photograph of fishing boats moored at the docks in Kodiak, Alaska with snow covered mountain in background

No, there aren’t plenty of fish in the sea. Alaska cod fishery closes

PortandTerminal.com, December 9, 2019

Warming ocean temperatures linked to climate change have wreaked havoc on Alaska’s fisheries in recent years, decimating stocks and jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen and locals alike who rely on the industry.

ANCHORAGE, AK – Cod, a major driver of Kodiak, Alaska’s winter economy, are now below the federal threshold that protects cod as a food source for endangered Stellar sea lions, and don’t look ready to bounce back any time soon.

As a result, in an unprecedented response to historically low numbers of Pacific cod, the federal cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska is closing for the 2020 season.

“I’m a cod fisherman born in Alaska: 1000s of miles of coastline & its all turning in2 one big desert. There are colossal blobs of warm water moving all through the northern pacific, and when those blobs hit up here, the fish aren’t laying eggs anymore. “

Reaction on social media to the announcement

From their last peak in 2014, at 113,830 metric tons, the level of mature, spawning cod have lost 60% of their number in the gulf, according to stock assessment data noted by the news service. The fishery had 46,080t in 2017.

Mature, spawning cod has lost 60% of their number in the gulf in just 3 seasons

We have wiped out almost 70% of everything except us and our domestic livestock in less than a lifetime. There is big trouble just ahead as this plays out.

Reaction on social media to the announcement

“We’re on the knife’s edge of this over-fished status,” North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Nicole Kimball said during talks in Anchorage.

It’s not over-fishing to blame for the die-off, but rather, climate change.

At their current numbers, cod are below the federal threshold that protects them as a food source for endangered steller sea lions. 

Warming ocean temperatures linked to climate change have wreaked havoc on a number of Alaska’s fisheries in recent years, decimating stocks and jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen and locals alike who rely on the industry.

A stock assessment this fall put Gulf cod populations at a historic low, with “next to no” new eggs, according to Steven Barbeaux, a research biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who authored the report. At their current numbers, cod are below the federal threshold that protects them as a food source for endangered steller sea lions. Once below that line, the total allowable catch goes to zero. In other words, the fishery shuts down.

READ: ‘Slow-motion disaster’ threatens Alaska’s key port. Repair cost $1.9 billion?

Up until the emergence of a marine heatwave known as “the blob” in 2014, the stock of cod in the Gulf of Alaska was doing well. But the heat wave caused ocean temperatures to rise 4-5 degrees. Young cod started dying off, scientists said.

“A lot of the impact on the population was due to that first heat wave that we haven’t recovered from,” Barbeaux said during an interview last month. 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.

“Retrospectively, we probably should have shut the fishery down last year [too],” Barbeaux said.

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