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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

The Effects of Climate Regimes on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific Cod Longline Fishery

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One component of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP) funded by NPRB is an economic modeling project focused on the Bering Sea pollock and the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Pacific cod fisheries.

The "freezer longline" sector accounts for about half of the BSAI Pacific cod wholesale value of $435 million (2008). Climate change in the North Pacific may affect the distribution of Pacific cod and drive changes in the distribution of fishing. The study discussed here uses a retrospective examination of fishery responses to inter-annual climate variability to attempt to improve our ability to predict future fishery distributions under warmer climate conditions.

We investigate the relationship between survey abundance, climate regime, and fishery catch per unit effort (CPUE). We also investigate how harvesters respond to different fishery CPUE conditions. Vessel operators fish to maximize their net revenue, balancing the prices, catch rates, and costs of fishing in different areas. Higher CPUE increases net revenue, while the cost associated with greater travel decreases it, all other factors being equal. In this research, we focus in particular on how vessel trips change in relation to abundance and CPUE variation that may be driven by climate.

We find that in the winter season, fishery CPUE is higher in cold years. It then decreases in the summer season to levels indistinguishable from summer season CPUE in warm years. Variation in total abundance does not explain this trend because abundance was lower in the cold years, when high CPUE was observed.

We posit that a large cold pool (water less than 2°C) concentrates fish in cold years, improving fishing conditions, and that this effect disappears as the cold pool dissipates in the summer fishing season. We also find that vessels make fewer long distance moves while fishing when CPUE is high, so that costs, in terms of the total distance traveled in a trip and the average number of sets per trip, are higher in warm years.

This suggests that on average, costs may be higher in the fishery in future years if average annual temperatures increase.

By Alan Haynie and Lisa Pfeiffer

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