2013 Assessment of the Octopus Stock Complex in the Gulf of Alaska
Through 2010, octopuses were managed as part of the “other species” complex, with catch reported only in the aggregate along with sharks, squids, and sculpins. Due to increasing market interest, retention of some other species complex members is increasing. Beginning in 2011, the GOA fisheries management plan has been amended to provide separate management for sharks, sculpins, and octopus. In compliance with the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens act, each group will have its own annual catch limit. Catch limits for octopus for 2011 - 2013 were set based on using the average of the last 3 surveys as a minimum biomass estimate. For 2014- 2015 two methods of estimating minimum biomass are presented: the average of three surveys or the random effects model applied to survey biomass estimates. Both methods give similar results.
For management purposes, all octopus species are grouped into a single assemblage. At least seven species of octopus are found in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The species composition both of the natural community and the commercial harvest is not well documented, but research indicates that the Giant Pacific octopus Enteroctopus dofleini is the most abundant octopus species in shelf waters and makes up the bulk of octopus catches in commercial fisheries. Octopuses are taken as incidental catch in trawl, longline, and pot fisheries throughout the GOA; a portion of the catch is retained or sold for human consumption or bait. The highest octopus catch rates are from Pacific cod pot fisheries in the central and western GOA (NMFS statistical areas 610 and 630).
In general, the state of knowledge about octopus in the GOA is poor. A number of research studies and special projects have been initiated in recent years to increase knowledge for this assemblage; these include studies of delayed mortality of discarded octopus and development of an octopus-specific fishing gear for possible scientific use. A review by the Center for Independent Experts of the stock assessments for North Pacific non-target species was conducted in May 2013. Suggestions and recommendations from this review will be incorporated into the 2014 stock assessment.