Scientists recommend increase in Arctic cod quota for 2014

Norway and Russia have been sharing access to the Arctic cod fishery since the 1970s.

The increase in the 2014 recommended total allocated catch (TAC) for the North East Arctic cod fishery represents a small increase from 2013, but scientists say this may be the peak of the quota.


The recommended TAC is expected to decrease starting in 2015.  Estimates for the long-term sustainable catch quota range between 700,000 and 800,000 tonnes.  The actual quota will not be set until October 2013.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas announced the 2014 recommended total allowable catch (TAC) for the North East Arctic cod on Friday, according to Norway’s Institute for Marine Research (IMR).  The new TAC is 993,000 tonnes, representing a 5.4 percent increase over the 2013 TAC of 940,000 tonnes.

But Bjarte Bogstad, scientist at the Bergen office of IMR and a specialist in stock assessement in the Barents Sea, said that the new TAC does not represent a significant change from 2013.

“We think we are at the peak now and we expect a decline in the years to come,” Bogstad said.  “Last year we thought 940,000 would be the peak.”

Bogstad said that the Arctic cod stock assessment is in part related to the age structure of the stock.  He said that cod born around 2004 and 2005 were stronger than normal, but have been heavily fished in the ensuing years.  Bogstad also said that the current situation depends in part on the current relatively warm temperatures in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean, which have allowed the cod population to expand its range.  But analysis shows that the population is distributed almost as far north as the more shallow areas of the sea will allow before dropping off into the deep.  North east Arctic cod do not tend to venture in waters deeper than 500 meters, according to Bogstad.  The Barents Sea has a maximum depth of 450 meters, whereas the Arctic Ocean has points as deep as 5,450 meters.

Beginning in 2015, the recommended TAC for Arctic cod is likely to decline, Bogstad said - but not by much.

“Norway and Russia have agreed to allow a maximum change of 10 percent per year, up or down, for at least the next few years,” Bogstad said.  “But it will stay in the 800,000 to 900,000 range.”

The actual quota for 2014 will not be set until October of this year, when the Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission meets to consider the ICES recommendation and other factors.  The joint commission was established in 1976 to provide efficient joint management of the most important fish stocks of both countries, in particular in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea. Since that time, quotas for north east Arctic cod have been evenly distributed between the two countries, minus an allocation of 14.15 percent of the total quota for foreign fishing vessels.

The 2013 TAC represented a 25 percent increase over the 2012 figure of 740,000 tonnes.  According to IMR historical analysis of the Arctic cod stock, a long-term sustainable TAC is between 700,000 and 800,000 tonnes. Last year, the joint commission set the actual quota at 1,000,000 tonnes for 2013.

The IMR says that the North East Arctic cod stock is the largest in the world.  The Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), which manages the Arctic cod as well as other major fisheries in Norway, has held sustainability certification for the stock from the Marine Stewardship Council since 2011.

Terje Martinussen, CEO of the NSC, said that stability is a key word in the matter.

“It seems like we will remain at this current quota level for a while, and most countries in the market will appreciate that we have a stable stock,” Martinussen said.

Last year, the challenge for the NSC was to increase the volume of cod on the market, Martinussen said.  The current major export markets for Norwegian Arctic cod are Portugal and Brazil for the salted and dried fish, Italy for dried fish, China for headed and gutted fish, and France, the UK, Sweden and Germany for fresh and frozen fish.

The economic challenge this year will be to increase the value of the export, he said, rather than finding new and more customers.

The minimum landing prices for Arctic cod have remained the same throughout 2013: fish weighing more than 6 kilos fetch NOK 13.25 per kilo, while smaller cod are valued between NOK 8 and 10.50.  These prices were set in December of last year by Norges Rafisklag, the largest fishermen’s association in Norway, in cooperation with the seafood industry.  At the time, they represented a drop in price of as much as 22 percent per kilo.

The fishing area for the north east Arctic cod is part of the Norwegian Exclusive Economic Zone, stretching northward along the Norwegian coast from about the middle of the country, and out into the Barents Sea. According to the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises, the main Norwegian business lobby, agriculture and fisheries comprise just 1.1 percent of the total Norwegian economy, 2.6 percent of the labor force and 4.8 percent of total exports in 2011. However, in the Barents region of the High North, fishing remains a major economic activity.