Nomination for Environmental Hero Award – 2000

April 22, 2000

NMFS would like the Administration to recognize contributions made by Mr. John Gauvin to assessments of fishery impacts on habitat and bycatch reduction initiatives in the North Pacific fisheries. Mr. Gauvin is the Director of the Groundfish Forum, Inc. Groundfish Forum is a trade association that represents trawl companies that fish for flatfish, Atka mackerel, and Pacific cod in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

Under the leadership of Mr. Gauvin, the Groundfish Forum actively works toward the development of meaningful solutions to concerns about fishery impacts on habitat, discards, and incidental catches that strive to maintain efficiency and economic margins of the fishing industry to the greatest degree practicable. Mr. Gauvin, working with the Groundfish Forum fleet, has developed methods of reducing incidental catches of prohibited species catch limits. As a result, his bycatch reduction projects have resulted in improved harvests and longer fishing seasons for the trawl fleet. Groundfish Forum also is developing methods of avoidance of low-valued species so that discards are reduced and working with regulators to answer questions on the effects of fishing gear on habitat and as well as a transition to ecosystem management.

Through his interactions with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, NMFS, industry groups and conservation groups, Mr. Gauvin has shown a recognition of the importance of resource conservation and keeping an open approach to working with regulators, government officials, and the public in order to keep the fishing industry economically viable in the years to come. Mr. Gauvin’s list of accomplishments and success towards reducing bycatch and habitat impacts include:

Development of an effective halibut avoidance program reliant on an independent contractor who receives daily NMFS observer data from satellite communications systems aboard all participating vessels. The contractor rapidly calculates bycatch rates from the observer data and sends plotted charts back to vessels in the avoidance program to identify incidental catch “hotspots”. This allows vessel operators to avoid areas where halibut bycatch rates are high. This system, called Sea State, has proven very effective in the reduction of incidental catch rates of halibut and is now an industry standard. Although Sea State was developed for halibut avoidance, it has proven equally effective for crab avoidance.

In 1998, Mr. Gauvin successfully applied to NMFS for an Experimental Fishing Permit (EFP) to test the effectiveness of a halibut excluder device in trawl gear. The selected excluder released 94% of halibut with only a 20-50% loss of target catch. The device is currently being adjusted so it will exclude even less target catch. Based on these results, trawl catch amounts of target species could almost double under existing halibut bycatch restrictions. Furthermore, Mr. Gauvin strongly has promoted an exchange of information among fishermen to reduce overall bycatch amounts. In coordination with Gulf of Alaska trawl representatives, Mr. Gauvin hosted a Halibut Excluder Workshop for Fishermen and gear manufacturers. The workshop gave an overview of excluders and allowed “brainstorming” for fisheries where excluders are not currently being used.

Under Mr. Gauvin’s tutelage, Groundfish Forum proposed a halibut mortality avoidance program (HMAP) to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Under the proposed program, trawlers would be provided an incentive to limit the length of their tows and carefully remove halibut from the catch as soon as the net is on board. The Council endorsed this concept. NMFS hopes to make progress on an analysis of the HMAP during 2000.

In 1999, Groundfish Forum conducted another experimental fishery with the NMFS Observer Program, to examine how catch stratification influenced observer catch composition estimates. The study will prove useful to NMFS and the industry in assessing the accuracy of the current sampling regime.

In 1999, Mr. Gauvin also coordinated a Groundfish Forum-funded study with the University of Alaska to develop an experimental design to assess trawl impacts on soft bottom habitat, where flatfish typically are harvested. This study is extensive and scheduled fieldwork in May 2000 includes use of a submersible. In addition to empirical research on the effects of trawls on benthic habitat, Groundfish Forum successfully raised funds to hire a benthic ecologist and a physical oceanographer to review existing studies on the impacts of trawling. Much of the existing research involve habitats that are physically different from the North Pacific, fished at a higher relative frequency, or examine gear that is heavier or altogether different. This review will produce an analysis of information which is applicable to the trawl fisheries in Alaska.

In 2000, Mr. Gauvin submitted another EFP application to develop a device for the Pacific cod trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska that would lower halibut bycatch rates without significantly lowering catch rates of cod. The project would be conducted in coordination with a NMFS gear development specialist who would help Mr. Gauvin and other EFP participants select the most promising halibut excluder design for testing using criteria set out in the EFP application. Experimental fishing would occur in September 2000.

Mr. Gauvin’s perseverance and initiative to promote and undertake action to assess habitat impacts of fishing activity, reduce bycatch through effective incentive programs and innovative gear research, and his credible and professional input into the Council process has proven helpful to NMFS and to the trawl fishery participants he represents. Mr. Gauvin continues to provide valuable contributions to the management of the North Pacific fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service is pleased to nominate Mr. John Gauvin for an Environmental Hero Award – 2000.

Nominated by Penelope D. Dalton, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries.