MSC suspends certification of GOA Pacific cod

Fishery meets criteria to remain certified under ASMI’s RFM program

Marine Stewardship Council officials have suspended their certification of Pacific cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska region effective April 5 due to depressed stocks in the Gulf caused by a marine heat wave.

Announcement of the forthcoming suspension was released on Friday, March 6, in Seattle by MRAG Americas, a private consulting and auditing firm with headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, whose clients range from government entities, including NOAA Fisheries, to many in the fishing industry itself. Any Pacific cod harvested from the Gulf between Jan. 1 and April 5 is still confirmed as extremely well managed, but after April 5, until the suspension is lifted, no cod harvested commercially in the Gulf may be sold as MSC certified as coming from a sustainable fishery, MRAG Americas said.

According to MRAG Americas, “this suspension is due specifically to depressed stocks of Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska below the B20 percent limit, or 20 percent of the unfished biomass.
If the stock falls below B20 percent or does not have a 70 percent probability of being above that point, it no longer meets the minimum scoring benchmark and is suspended.”

“The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, as the client for the Alaska Pacific cod fishery, expressed disappointment over MSC certification in the Gulf of Alaska being suspended despite fishery managers taking responsible actions in the face of ocean conditions beyond their control,” said Julie Decker, executive director of AFDF. “We believe that responsible management should be rewarded and hope this unfortunate situation will be a catalyst for the MSC program to make changes to address future scenarios such as this,” Decker said.

After a normal annual audit is completed later this year, AFDF anticipates that the RFM certification will likely remain in place due to differences between the MSC and RFM standards, AFDF officials said. Specifically, the RFM standard does not require an automatic suspension when a fishery drops below B20 percent, rather, it assesses the management responses as well. As such, all of the Pacific cod harvested from Alaska, even I the Gulf after April 5 can be sold as RFM certified.

Ninety-four percent of Alaska’s Pacific cod is harvested in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and those harvests remain MSC certified, although allowable catches are down for this year.

Meanwhile the Responsible Fisheries Management sustainability certification program for all Pacific cod in Alaska, a program of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, remains in effect. The RFM program is based on a model from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.