2014 Assessment of the Alaska Plaice Stock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands
Alaska plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus) are primarily distributed on the Eastern Bering Sea continental shelf, with only small amounts found in the Aleutian Islands region. In particular, the summer distribution of Alaska plaice is generally confined to depths < 110 m, with larger fish predominately in deep waters and smaller juveniles (<20 cm) in shallow coastal waters (Zhang et al., 1998). The Alaska plaice distribution overlaps with northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra) and yellowfin sole (Limanda aspera), but the center of the distribution is north of the center of the other two species and seems to be positioned further north in warm years and more southern in cold years. Substantial amounts of Alaska plaice were also found between St. Matthew and St. Lawrence Islands in the 2010 northern expansion of the annual Bering Sea shelf trawl survey.
There has been no research on stock structure in this species.
Since implementation of the Fishery Conservation and Management Act (FCMA) in 1977, Alaska plaice have been lightly harvested in most years as no major commercial target fishery exists for them. In 2013 68% of the Alaska plaice catch occurred in the yellowfin sole fishery. In 2011, most of the annual TAC for Alaska plaice was harvested by late winter and early spring as bycatch in the yellowfin sole fishery (at levels well-below ABC). This pattern changed in 2012 with much lower catch rates in the early part of the year but higher catch rates (over 1,000 t per week) in September. The majority of the 2013 catch was also taken early in the year. The 2014 catch is estimated at 19,000 t (less than half the ABC) based on the current catch history (detailed in Table 10.1).
Catches of Alaska plaice increased from approximately 1,000 t in 1971 to a peak of 62,000 t in 1988, the first year of joint venture processing (JVP) (Table 10.1). Part of this apparent increase was due to increased species identification and reporting of catches in the 1970s. Because of the overlap of the Alaska plaice distribution with that of yellowfin sole, much of the Alaska plaice catch during the 1960s was likely caught as bycatch in the yellowfin sole fishery (Zhang et al. 1998). With the cessation of joint venture fishing operations in 1991, Alaska plaice are now harvested exclusively by domestic vessels. Catch data from 1980-89 by its component fisheries (JVP, non-U.S., and domestic) are available in Wilderbuer and Walters (1990).
Alaska plaice are grouped with the rock sole, flathead sole, and other flatfish fisheries under a common prohibited species catch (PSC) limit, with seasonal and total annual allowances of prohibited species bycatch by these flatfish fisheries applied to the fisheries within the group. Prior to 2008, these fisheries were closed prior to attainment of the TAC due to the bycatch of halibut (Table 10.2), and typically were also closed during the first quarter due to a seasonal bycatch cap. Since the implementation of Amendment 80 in 2008 where catch and bycatch shares were assigned to groups of fishing vessels (cooperatives), these fisheries have not been subjected to time and area closures, although there was a rock sole target closure in 2010.