2013 Summary Assessment of the Octopus Stock Complex in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands
Through 2010, octopuses were managed as part of the BSAI “other species” complex, along with sharks, skates, and sculpins. Historically, catches of the other species complex were well below TAC and retention of other species was small. Due to increasing market values, retention of some other species complex members is increasing. Beginning in 2011, the BSAI fisheries management plan was amended to provide separate management for sharks, skates, sculpins, and octopus and set separate catch limits for each species group. Catch limits for octopus for 2011 were set using Tier 6 methods based on the maximum historical incidental catch rate. For 2012 and 2013, a new methodology based on consumption of octopus by Pacific cod was introduced; this method is also recommended for 2014 and 2015. The consumption estimate has not been revised from 2012; the authors recommend that this calculation be revisited once every five years.
In this assessment, all octopus species are grouped into one assemblage. At least seven species of octopus are found in the BSAI. The species composition of the octopus community is not well documented, but data indicate that the giant Pacific octopus Enteroctopus dofleini is most abundant in shelf waters and predominates in commercial catch. Octopuses are taken as incidental catch in trawl, longline, and pot fisheries throughout the BSAI; a portion of the catch is retained or sold for human consumption or bait. The highest octopus catch rates are from Pacific cod fisheries in the three reporting areas around Unimak Pass. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Island trawl surveys produce estimates of biomass for octopus, but these estimates are highly variable and do not reflect the same sizes of octopus caught by industry. Examination of size frequency from survey and fishery data shows that both commercial and survey trawls catch predominantly small animals (<5 kg), while commercial pot gear catches or retains only larger animals (10-20 kg). In general, the state of knowledge about octopus in the BSAI is poor. A number of research studies and special projects have been initiated to increase knowledge for this assemblage; results of these studies are summarized.