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Status of Stocks & Multispecies Assessment Program

Groundfish Stock Assessments for 2008: Fishery Quota Recommendations

Figure 1 map, see caption
Figure 1.  Click image to enlarge.

Figure 2, see caption
Figure 2.  Click image to enlarge.

The Alaska groundfish management system is based on extensive data available from the AFSC's North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program and dedicated research cruises. Catch of target and prohibited species (e.g., salmon, crab, herring, and Pacific halibut) are estimated at sea or in processing plants to provide real-time information to ensure that fisheries do not exceed total allowable catches (TACs) or violate other fishery restrictions, such as time-area closures. Dedicated research cruises coupled with observer data make it possible to build detailed population dynamics models. Results of these modeling activities are used to determine the status of individual species and make recommendations for future catch levels.

Establishing TACs involves annual evaluation of the best available scientific information through a series of documents and public meetings. The first step begins with the preparation of stock assessment and fishery evaluation (SAFE) reports. These reports contain analyses summarizing the information about the individual stocks and groups, and include acceptable biological catch (ABC) and overfishing levels (OFL) recommendations for future years.

The authors of these reports (generally NMFS scientists) present their findings to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's (NPFMC) groundfish plan teams in September and November. At these meetings, the reports are reviewed and recommendations for ABC levels are compiled into two SAFE report volumes (one each for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA) regions), along with plan team recommendations for ABC. The compiled reports are then submitted to the NPFMC Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) for further review. The SSC makes the final ABC recommendation to the Council and the Council's Advisory Panel of industry representatives makes TAC recommendations. Finally, the recommended TAC levels are adjusted (for some species) by the Council to ensure that other constraints (e.g., limiting the sum of all TACs in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands to be less than 2 million t are met. The following rule applies for all federally managed groundfish species in a given year:

Catch < TAC < ABC < OFL

In practice, catch is often much less than TAC and TAC is often much less than ABC. The multispecies management system is, therefore, based on the premise that no individual components are overfished or below stock sizes that are considered detrimental to the ecosystem. Stock assessments can be obtained on the web at

In 2007 the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division's groundfish assessment group conducted a summer bottom trawl survey in the Gulf of Alaska (the previous such survey was in 2005). The RACE Division's Midwater Assessment Conservation Engineering (MACE) Program conducted three major surveys in 2007: the winter echo-integration trawl (EIT) survey in the Shelikof Strait and nearby areas, the winter Bogoslof Island region survey of spawning pollock from the Aleutian Basin, and a survey of the entire shelf region of the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) to assess the summer abundance of pollock and other species.

Scientists from the AFSC's Auke Bay Laboratories (ABL) conducted the annual longline survey which is designed primarily for sablefish but also produces data used in the Greenland turbot and some rockfish assessments. This survey covers the slope regions of the GOA along with segments of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions. The groundfish assessment group also conducted the standard summer-trawl survey for the EBS shelf area and an extensive survey of the GOA.

Ecosystem considerations sections were enhanced within individual assessment sections, in addition to the extensive document detailing an overall picture of the ecosystem status, on the web at This report plays an ever increasing role in evaluating quota recommendations, and ecosystem considerations are continually being enhanced within the individual species-specific stock assessment report sections.

Presently, projections of 2008 spawning biomass for the main groundfish stocks are estimated to be near or above their target stock size (Bmsy ) while the 2007 catch levels were below Fmsy levels for both the BSAI and GOA regions (Figs. 1 and 2). Fisheries for these groundfish species during 2006 yielded 2.1 million t valued at approximately $2.0 billion after primary processing. This harvest represents over half of the weight of all commercial fish species landed in the United States. The main pollock stock yields in 2007 dropped from previous years but resulted in catches of about 1.4 million t. Virtually all flatfish resources (e.g., rock sole, yellowfin sole, Alaska plaice, and arrowtooth flounder) are at high levels, but catches remain relatively low. Atka mackerel abundance is declining and is presently at about average levels. Rockfish species comprise 5%-8% of the groundfish complex biomass and are generally increasing based on recent surveys.

On the following two pages are summaries of stock assessment results by area (Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands) and species or species group.

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