Benthic Habitats and the Effects of Fishing

Symposium Abstract: Approaches to EFH Management for Alaska Groundfish Fisheries that Fulfill Habitat Management Objectives and Maintain Viable Groundfish Fisheries

J. R. Gauvin

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569605.ch9

While there are still many unknowns and contradictory evidence regarding the effects of on-bottom trawling on benthic habitat and fish populations, there is relatively more agreement among scientists and some stakeholders regarding the need to enact additional measures to manage trawling on hard bottom substrates, particularly those inhabited by concentrations of long-lived and vulnerable invertebrates such as sponges and corals. This is particularly true where these fragile and sessile epifauna occur in waters too deep to be appreciably affected by natural disturbance, and thus where benthic animals and structure would not be expected to be adapted to disturbance events. My paper will present a set of what I believe are non-traditional approaches to management of trawl effects in deep water areas. These alternative measures are designed to meet habitat protection objectives of the M-S Act while allowing the other mandates of the Act to be attained as well. My paper will focus on the hard bottom fisheries off Alaska where, I believe, a set of conditions exist that allow for more flexible approaches to management of trawl fisheries. Fishery managers and stakeholders in Alaska are currently reviewing existing protections for EFH in the context of the court ruling that NMFS had failed to meet NEPA requirements in its earlier analysis of management options for EFH. Some members of the fishing industry in Alaska are interested in consideration of an alternative set of measures from the simplistic time/area closures. We believe that additional sweeping closures could actually compress and intensify fishing effects, possibly triggering a negative outcome for the areas left open to fishing. Hence an alternative approach merits consideration. It is hoped that at least some of the alternatives presented in my paper will have been accepted for analysis in the Environmental Impact Statement currently being developed for our region by the time of Symposium.