A new study looks at why Pacific Cod stocks are crashing in the Gulf of Alaska

Fishing boats in Kodiak. (Photo by James Brooks / KMXT)

Mitch Borden/KMXT

A new study in Kodiak will hopefully shed some light on what Pacific cod go through when they’re young.

“We don’t know how they do in the winter. Where they are. What they are eating. What their energetic requirements are.”

Mike Litzow is a researcher for the University of Alaska Fairbanks based in Kodiak and is one of the leaders of the project. He says the recent crash in the Pacific cod population in the Gulf of Alaska was a wake-up call that there’s a lot to be learned about the early life stages of Pacific cod.

A few years ago a body of warm water settled in the gulf and made it difficult for juvenile cod to survive.

“The operating hypothesis right now is that you can warm the temperatures up and they’ll survive if there’s enough food, but there wasn’t enough food to meet those requirements.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service, according to Litzow, recently found that the Pacific cod population had dropped by about 60 percent since 2015. The North Pacific Fisheries Pacific Council reduced the amount of Pacific cod that can be caught by commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska by about 80 percent because of the crash.

The decrease in cod will be hard for Kodiak fisherman because Pacific Cod is one of the bigger fisheries in the region. Litzow believes Kodiak has to face the possibility that more fishery disasters could be in its future because of climate change.

“So as we think in coming years and decades for Kodiak, we have to think about there being more events like this and more unusual temperatures and more surprises like the pink salmon return in 2016 or this cod collapse.”

Litzow hopes his research will help Kodiak adapt to a changing marine environment. He says the study will begin later this month.

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