Gear Modifications Protect Habitat
After years of research and collaboration with the NOAA fisheries conservation engineering division, in 2012 all our vessels fishing in the Bering Sea adopted new type of fishing gear, known as modified trawl sweeps, which reduce bottom contact of the gear by 90%. Groundfish Forum’s vessels began using the gear ahead of the regulatory mandated date for the Bering Sea and years before it became required in the Gulf of Alaska in 2014. Modified trawl sweeps elevate most of the parts of the trawl that herd fish off the ocean bottom, which reduces bottom impacts and also bycatch of king and tanner crab.
Habitat impacts from fishing gear are among the most studied topics in fisheries management, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has a strong track record of analyzing Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and the impacts of fishing gear on those habitats. The effectiveness of modified trawl sweeps in reducing mortality and disturbance on benthic species such as sea whips, basket stars, sponges, and crab species is well-documented, peer reviewed, and verified by NOAA scientists.
 A Seascape Habitat Model to Support Management of Fishing Impacts on Benthic Ecosystems, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Vol. 76, No. 10, October 2019, https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/full/10.1139/cjfas-2018-0243