Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization (MSA): The MSA mandate to protect essential fish habitat (EFH) may help to ensure the sustainability of fisheries, but many in the fishing industry and environmental community appear to want to use this mandate to arbitrarily change fish allocations – at the expense of the trawl sector. Groundfish Forum worked with a committee of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) to change the EFH mandate to refocus on meaningful habitat protections, while reducing the opportunity for EFH protections to become a new fish allocation battlefield.
Experiment to test trawl effects: In May, during the yellowfin sole fisheries, research was conducted under a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) research permit near Round Island, off Togiak. The Round Island area has been closed to trawling for several years with a small seasonal exception. Groundfish Forum was able to secure a special research permit to research the effects of trawling on benthic habitat. A graduate student from the University of Alaska, supported by Groundfish Forum, directed the research onboard the F/T Vaerdal, a Groundfish Forum member boat, which volunteered for the experiment. The researchers documented virtually every detail of the sea floor both before and after fishing. The researcher’s conclusions were that the seafloor looked the same after trawling, as it did before, except for clusters of sea stars feeding on ground-up waste placed overboard by the boat’s processing operations. Further information about the study is available on Groundfish Forum’s web-page at www.groundfishforum.org. The University of Alaska is continuing to conduct research on the effects of trawling on physical substrates and sediments in the study area.
Injunction – Greenpeace et al.: The Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington granted an injunction enjoining trawling inside any Steller sea lion (SSL) habitat, effective August 7, 2000. Groundfish Forum provided data on the economic impacts of the injunction to several congressional offices and ensured that these offices had any data required concerning effects of the injunction on the fisheries in general. This information played a role in the industry’s efforts to get some Congressional mandated relief from the economic impacts.
Improved Retention/Improved Utilization (IR/IU) modifications: Through proposals and comments, Groundfish Forum started the process of requesting the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) to make modifications to the full retention/utilization requirements, due to take effect for yellowfin sole and rocksole in January 2003. Due to Groundfish Forum’s comments and proposals, the Council passed a motion to postpone implementation of processor sideboards and develop the alternative approach to IR/IU.
Experiment Fishing Permit (EFP) 2000: Early in 2000, the Groundfish Forum applied for and received an EFP to test a halibut excluder for use in the trawl fisheries for cod. This experiment was conducted with another industry association and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Results of the initial tows were that the reduction in halibut bycatch was near 80% but about 50% of the cod were also escaping. Cod size data indicated that even large cod were escaping, therefore adjustments were made to the ring excluder. To make it harder for fish to pass through the tunnel to the escape opening, a fiberglass rod was also installed under the bottom panel of the intermediate in the tunnel section. This reduced the tunnel to a thin slot between this rod and the ring frames. While this modification did not affect the impressive reduction in halibut bycatch rate, it did improve cod retention. Further work on the design of this excluder will occur in 2001, under the two-year EFP.
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Hearing: John Gauvin received an invitation to testify at a hearing held before the House Resource Committee in Washington, D.C. John’s testimony concerned the definition of EFH. This definition is important because there are mandated requirements under EFH that could affect the future of fishing. The Resource Committee, as a whole, endorsed John’s suggestions and was supportive of the efforts Groundfish Forum has made to learn more about the effects of trawling on habitat.
Environmental Hero Award: On Earth Day 2000, John Gauvin was one of 3 Alaskans awarded an Environmental Hero award by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries for his work on reducing bycatch and his commitment to improving the scientific knowledge on the impacts of trawling on benthic habitat. Vice President Al Gore sent each of the Environmental Heroes a personal letter of congratulations.