Center scientists awarded NOAA Bronze Medals for outstanding achievement

March 20, 2006

At an awards ceremony last week in Washington, D.C., several PIFSC scientists were honored for their exceptional contributions to NOAA's mission of marine resource conservation. Jason Baker and Michael Quach were recognized with individual NOAA Bronze Medal Awards. Christofer Boggs, Wende Goo, Donald Kobayashi, Sam Pooley, and Yonat Swimmer were acknowledged with group NOAA Bronze Medal Awards.

Jason Baker

Jason Baker's award cited his significant contributions to one of NOAA's primary strategic objectives: protecting, restoring and managing protected species. In recent months, he authored or coauthored seven scientific papers documenting research that has significantly improved the basis for conservation of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the depleted northern fur seal. He has developed new and innovative methods of monitoring population trends and designed techniques to improve data collection. Most notable has been his role in developing a digital photographic technique used to identify and monitor individual seals. Such monitoring data can be analyzed to determine rates of seal survival and reproduction, key factors in assessing the status of seal populations. Through his innovative use of satellite transponder tags on northern fur seals and digital camera deployments on Hawaiian monk seals, he has advanced our knowledge of the foraging ecology of these two important species. His research has yielded information vital to the conservation and protection of the habitats and food resources on which these species depend. Baker's contributions are far-reaching, as the results of his research can be applied to many other protected species under NOAA's stewardship.

Michael Quach

Michael Quach was acknowledged for designing and implementing a new system for efficiently scanning commercial fish catch records and other important documents and archiving images of them into a robust, easy-to-use database system. His system has been adopted by fisheries agencies in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, all partners with the PIFSC in managing fisheries data in the Pacific Islands Region (PIR). Data collected by these agencies comprise the fisheries intelligence assets needed to effectively manage local fisheries and monitor fishery resource trends. The PIR is NOAA's largest marine resource management jurisdiction, making fishery data management a formidable challenge. The agencies coordinate data management through the Western Pacific Fisheries Information Network (WPacFIN), a PIFSC program managed by Quach. By using Quach's new scanning and archiving system, the agencies have enhanced their data handling procedures and virtually eliminated the risk of permanently losing valuable documents. Quach's new archiving system and centralized database have dramatically increased the ability of fisheries agencies in the PIR to secure and share scientific data.

Yonat Swimmer

Yonat Swimmer was honored along with Charles Bergmann of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center and Peter Dutton of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. They introduced new methods of longline fishing to several Latin American countries, thereby reducing the impact of their fisheries on endangered sea turtle populations. In Ecuador, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Panama, and other Latin American nations sea turtles are caught unintentionally by fishermen using longline gear to catch tuna and other fish species. Swimmer and her collaborators taught local fishermen the benefits of using "turtle friendly" longline circle hooks that reduce the likelihood of hooking turtles and "dehookers" that enable turtles to be released alive after their capture. The new longline gear and turtle handling methods have been successfully introduced into U.S. longline fisheries where they have significantly reduced sea turtle bycatch and injury. Working with local and international organizations in the host countries, the NMFS scientists conducted longline gear tests and demonstration projects within the local fishing fleets. As a result of the technology transfer and training programs, local fishermen increased their use of circle hooks and turtle dehookers. Because foreign fleets account for most of the global turtle bycatch in longline gear, significant conservation benefits are expected from their widespread adoption of the turtle friendly methods.

Christofer Boggs
Wende Goo
Donald Kobayashi
Samuel Pooley

Christofer Boggs, Wende Goo, Donald Kobayashi, and Sam Pooley were part of a team recognized for implementing new fishing practices that reduce the likelihood of incidental interactions between longline hooks and sea turtles during fishing operations by Hawaii-based swordfish longline vessels. The achievement allowed NMFS to reopen the Hawaii swordfish fishery after a 3 year closure. The PIFSC group accomplished their goal in collaboration with Bill Chappell of the NMFS Office of Sustainable Fisheries, Judson Feder of NOAA General Counsel, Marcia Hamilton of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, and colleagues Tom Graham, Alvin Katekaru, and Marilyn Luipold of the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office. The group worked closely with partners in the fishing industry, other government agencies, and non-governmental environmental organizations to implement new fishing practices based on findings of NMFS research. The research showed that use of circle hooks and other modifications of fishing technique would reduce interactions with leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles in the swordfish fishing grounds north of Hawaii. A multi-faceted regulatory amendment was developed and adopted, allowing a "model" swordfish fishery to reopen in March 2004. Swordfish vessels are now required to use circle hooks and methods to reduce injury to turtles released alive after their capture and to comply with several other strict conservation measures. All swordfish operations are observed by NMFS scientific observers. By ensuring reduced impacts on sea turtles, the modified fishing methods and other regulations allow the Hawaii–based longline fleet to resume important economic activity; the annual swordfish catch is worth almost $35 million at the dock.