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Independent Experts Review Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska


August 17, 2004

Six independent experts from Canada, Australia and Norway have completed a report to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) on the science that underlies some of the agency's recent work on essential fish habitat in Alaska. The review examined the agency's draft analysis that concluded commercial fishing in Alaska has no more than minimal and temporary adverse effects on sea floor habitats.

"This peer review was necessary to ensure our final analysis is based upon the best available scientific information," said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries' Alaska Regional Administrator.

The review concluded that the model developed by the agency's Alaska Fisheries Science Center was a reasonable approach to determine the effects of fishing on ocean habitat features, and recommended a number of improvements to the way agency scientists assessed the influence of habitat disturbance on fish stocks. Overall, the reviewers thought fishery managers should be more cautious before concluding that fishing does not harm essential habitats.

According to Jon Kurland, chief of the Habitat Conservation Division for NOAA Fisheries, agency scientists will develop a technical document in response to the peer review, and will propose additional analyses to address the reviewers' comments.

Dr. Ken Drinkwater of the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway chaired the six-person review panel, which was convened by the University of Miami's Center for Independent Experts. NOAA Fisheries contracted the group to conduct a peer review of the assessment methodology used to determine the effects of fishing on essential fish habitat (EFH) in Alaska. The six reviewers are experts in benthic ecology, fisheries oceanography, fishery biology, fisheries assessment, fishing gear technology and biophysical modeling.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that every fishery management plan describe and identify EFH for the fishery and minimize to the extent practicable any adverse effects of fishing on EFH. NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council released a draft environmental impact statement in January that considers the impacts of fishing on EFH for groundfish, crabs, and other fish stocks in Alaska.

"The panel felt that the model was well conceived and is useful in providing estimates of the possible effect of fishing on benthic habitat," Drinkwater wrote in the summary of the panel's findings. "However, as acknowledged in the draft environmental impact statement, the parameter estimates are not well resolved and have high uncertainty, due in large part to a paucity of data. Thus the results must be viewed as rough estimates only."

In the summary, the experts provided a list of 22 suggestions - both short-term and long-term - aimed at improving the information presented in the environmental impact statement. Some would require further field research.

"Our next step is to determine what changes we can make in the time available to us to complete the final environmental impact statement" said Kurland. The agency must publish the final EIS by June 2005. Drinkwater will present the panel's findings to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at a meeting in Sitka in early October. At the same meeting, NOAA Fisheries will propose to the Council a course of action for addressing the peer review in the final EIS.

Each of the six panelists' reports plus the group's summary report can be found on the Alaska Region EFH Center for Independent Experts website.


Source of News Release:

NOAA - National Marine Fisheries Service - AK Region
Web Site


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