Commercial trawling for cod in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region will look a little different next year.
Starting in January, the fleet will fish under a “rationalization” system where each catcher vessel will have a maximum catch limit, which will be assigned through quota.
Trawlers — commonly known as “draggers” — use nets that target fish near the bottom of the ocean. The new regulations will require vessels trawling for cod in the area to form cooperatives, and quota will be administered through each co-op.
Previously, the entire fishery had a total allowable catch that had to be caught within a certain amount of time.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the amount of cod fishermen were allowed to catch has been dropping steadily over the past several years. And the fast pace of the trawl fishery has contributed to shorter seasons. That meant the value of the fishery also dropped, and everyone participating in the fishery — from vessels to communities — has been negatively impacted.
The new program aims to improve safety and minimize bycatch — the harvest of non-targeted species. NOAA claims it should also increase the value of the fishery and help sustain coastal fishing communities.
The program will only affect the main fishing seasons for the fleet — what are referred to as ‘A’ and ‘B’ seasons.
NOAA said this is the first time a catch share program has been implemented in Alaska since 2012. The Crab Rationalization Program implemented in 2005 was a similar transition and was meant to limit the dangers of the lucrative and fast-paced Bristol Bay Red King crab fishery.
Pacific cod are one of the most valuable groundfish species harvested off the coasts of Alaska. In 2021, the commercial harvest was more than 330 million pounds, and worth nearly $87 million.
Trawlers are one of a few gear-types that harvest cod. Longline and pot are two other predominant methods.
NOAA has notified eligible participants and is accepting applications for the new program until Oct. 10.