2015 Assessment of the Pacific Cod Stock in the Gulf of Alaska
Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) is a transoceanic species, occurring at depths from shoreline to 500 m. The southern limit of the species’ distribution is about 34° N latitude, with a northern limit of about 63° N latitude. Pacific cod is distributed widely over Gulf of Alaska (GOA), as well as the eastern Bering Sea (EBS) and the Aleutian Islands (AI) area. Tagging studies (e.g., Shimada and Kimura 1994) have demonstrated significant migration both within and between the EBS, AI, and GOA. Recent research indicates the existence of discrete stocks in the EBS and AI (Canino et al. 2005, Cunningham et al. 2009, Canino et al. 2010, Spies 2012). Pacific cod is not known to exhibit any special life history characteristics that would require it to be assessed or managed differently from other groundfish stocks in the GOA. The Pacific cod stock in the GOA is managed as one stock.
Pacific cod eggs are demersal and adhesive. Eggs hatch in about 15 to 20 days. Spawning takes place in the sublittoral-bathyal zone (40 to 290 m) near bottom. Eggs sink to the bottom after fertilization and are somewhat adhesive. Optimal temperature for incubation is 3° to 6°C, optimal salinity is 13 to 23 parts per thousand (ppt), and optimal oxygen concentration is from 2 to 3 ppm to saturation. Little is known about the optimal substrate type for egg incubation.
Little is known about the distribution of Pacific cod larvae, which undergo metamorphosis at about 25 to 35 mm. Larvae are epipelagic, occurring primarily in the upper 45 m of the water column shortly after hatching, moving downward in the water column as they grow.
Juveniles occur mostly over the inner continental shelf at depths of 60 to 150 m. Adults occur in depths from the shoreline to 500 m, although occurrence in depths greater than 300 m is fairly rare. Preferred substrate is soft sediment, from mud and clay to sand. Average depth of occurrence tends to vary directly with age for at least the first few years of life. However, in the GOA trawl survey, the percentage of fish residing in waters less than 100 m tends to increase with length beyond about 90 cm. The GOA trawl survey also indicates that fish occupying depths of 200-300 m are typically in the 40-90 cm size range.
It is conceivable that mortality rates, both fishing and natural, may vary with age in Pacific cod. In particular, very young fish likely have higher natural mortality rates than older fish (note that this may not be particularly important from the perspective of single-species stock assessment, so long as these higher natural mortality rates do not occur at ages or sizes that are present in substantial numbers in the data). For example, Leslie matrix analysis of a Pacific cod stock occurring off Korea estimated the instantaneous natural mortality rate of 0-year-olds at 910% per year (Jung et al. 2009). This may be compared to a mean estimate for age 0 Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) in Newfoundland of 4.17% per day, with a 95% confidence interval ranging from about 3.31% to 5.03% (Gregory et al. in prep.); and age 0 Greenland cod (Gadus ogac) of 2.12% per day, with a 95% confidence interval ranging from about 1.56% to 2.68% (Robert Gregory and Corey Morris, pers. commun.).