Alaska’s Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott signed a letter last week asking the federal government to declare the 2018 Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska a disaster.
This year's Pacific cod quota was reduced by 80 percent from 2017 — from 64,442 metric tons in 2017 to 13,096 metric tons — in response to a declining stock.
In October, a NMFS survey reported a 71 percent decline in Pacific cod abundance in the gulf since 2015 and an 83 percent decline since 2013.
According to the letter, that deep cut to the quota is expected to be accompanied by revenue drop of 81 to 83 percent of the most recent five-year average.
"Throughout the Gulf of Alaska, direct impacts will be felt by vessel owners and operators, crew and fish processors, as well as support industries that sell fuel, supplies and groceries. Local governments will feel the impact to their economic base, and the state of Alaska will see a decline in fishery-related tax revenue," reads the letter. "We believe these impacts are severe enough to warrant this request for fishery disaster declaration for this area."
Barbara Blake, senior adviser to Walker and Mallott, told Alaska Public Media that crossing that 80 percent threshold makes the fishery eligible for a disaster declaration and that the request will go to the secretary of commerce for a decision.
“How we’ve seen this come about in the past is that request goes in along with other natural disasters, and that’s how we end up getting the appropriations for that, is they roll it into natural disasters like hurricane relief and things of that nature,” said Blake.
If approved, this disaster declaration would be the second for the Gulf of Alaska in recent years, following the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon season. That season was officially declared a disaster by the federal government in early 2017. The government approved $200 million in relief funds — but those are to be shared between nine West Coast fisheries. Alaska senators originally requested a total of $150 million for Alaska fisheries alone.
The Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center researchers have begun collecting information about the habitat use, diet and energetics of juvenile cod. Scientists believe warmer waters could be increasing the metabolic rates of young cod and, subsequently, their food sources don't supply enough energy.
"The status of Pacific cod is probably the biggest fishery issue facing Kodiak right now," said Mike Litzow, a member of the research faculty with the University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries department at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center.