Officials: Alaska groundfish closure won’t kill cod, flatfish fisheries

There’s no doubt that the recent announcement of shutting down directed fishing for groundfish will have an effect on Alaska fisheries, particularly for cod, but U.S. fisheries officials told SeafoodSource that this doesn’t mean no one can fish for cod and flatfish.

The National Marine Fisheries Service announced the shutdown as of noontime on Sunday, 3 May. Officially, it will last until 31 December 2015. Julie Speegle, public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries Alaska region, acknowledged that with only 50 percent of the annual cod quota harvested and only 10 percent of flatfish quota, the shutdown is going to be rough on some fishers.

“Of course there is a high level of concern,” she said.

The shutdown is part of a new rule that took effect on 1 January putting a limit on chinook salmon bycatch, but not all gears have been cut off. Right now, Speegle said, the catcher/processor sector and rockfish catcher vessels are still under their bycatch quota, so they may still fish cod and flatfish.

David Witherell, deputy director of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, agreed, noting that “There will still be cod coming in fished by other gears.”

Witherell said the shutdown will have more of an impact on cod. Flatfish is important, he said, but “It’s not necessarily a mainstay of the fishery.”

And there’s a chance that everyone may be back in the water before it’s over. Speegle noted a provision in the rule that says if the rockfish season ends on 1 October with bycatch quota left over, that may be rolled over to non-rockfish vessels.

Overall, Speegle said, “There will still be some harvesting, but we’re going to keep an eye on how the harvest goes,” she said.


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