Gulf of Alaska cod could lose sustainability certification by March, MSC confirms

Pacific cod from the Gulf of Alaska may lose its Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability certification in the coming months due to a decline in the stock, according to the organization.

“The Gulf of Alaska Pacific Cod fishery is currently undergoing an expedited audit against the MSC fisheries standard following new information from the National Marine Fishery Service showing that the Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod stock had declined to less than B20,” said MSC Senior Public Relations Manager Jackie Marks. “This resulted in closure of the federal Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery by federal fisheries managers, effective January 2020. This information triggered an expedited audit of the fishery’s MSC certification status, which is currently being undertaken by the conformity assessment body.”

The results of the expected audit will likely be available in March 2020. In addition to closing the federal cod fishery in the gulf, a smaller fishery managed by the state of Alaska has been reduced drastically.

Experts hope that a decrease in harvest will allow the fishery to recover and that, in 2021, the MSC keeps the option available to perform an expedited audit of the fishery and declare it sustainable again if populations have increased.

Stakeholders believe that the decrease in the fishery is due at least in part to ocean warming.

A NOAA study on how cod managed with an ocean heat wave from 2014 to 2016 showed that cod respond to an increase in temperature by moving to cooler, deeper areas of water or searching for more food. If they are unable to do so, “decreases in growth or increases in mortality may occur,” the study found.

“We recognize that climate change is impacting fisheries across the world and shifting stock dynamics, and currently, under our fisheries standard review, we are studying different ways that will allow us to better consider climate change," Marks said. "However, currently our standard does not directly addresses climate change. It does, however, monitor changes in the health of stocks and ecosystems."

The MSC and other sustainability certifiers are beginning to have to decide how to handle fisheries affected by climate change. Two notable fisheries recently lost their MSC certifications because of the impact of climate change: Northeast Atlantic mackerel and North Sea cod.

Photo courtesy of Max Lindenthaler/Shutterstock


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