Sea Grant was second career for Harvey Hoven 

Harvey Hoven had already worked a full career in finance in Minneapolis before he found his way to Sea Grant, where he spent 14 years (1989-2003). He had retired from banking and moved back to his hometown of Superior in the mid-1980s, relaxing by fishing and boating on Lake Superior. But then his time on the water started to pique his curiosity about the things living in the lake. 

On the advice of some Wisconsin Department of Natural resources staff members, Hoven decided to pursue a degree in aquatic biology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior even though he already had an MBA from the University of Minnesota. 

While he was studying, he heard that Wisconsin Sea Grant might be hiring locally. “I thought that would be a good thing to look into,” Hoven said. “It interested me, so I got involved. I kind of edged my way in there and got hired.” 

Although his duties weren’t clearly defined at first, they developed into a focus on business enterprises along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Superior, making use of Hoven’s finance background. He said these included marinas, bait shops, charter captains and fishing groups. He worked to “get a feel of who’s doing what, what were some of the issues, what were the problems, what were the questions they wanted answers to. I played the role of go-between—somebody who was on the shoreline but had access to the university campus in Madison where the experts were—the fisheries experts, the engineering people. I was a gofer for UW-Madison on the lakeshore,” he said. 

Initially, he spent much of his time getting to know people along the shore. This naturally led to projects. “I started doing an annual economic survey of business activity along the shoreline,” Hoven said. “I found that very interesting for two reasons. One, it gave me a sense of what was happening economically on Lake Superior. Secondly, it got me into everybody’s store!” 

At first, business owners were reluctant to provide Hoven with their financial information, but as they got to know him they began to trust him. Hoven also credits help from former Barker’s Island Marina manager Jack Culley for their cooperation. 

“He was a real dynamic guy and a hard-driven guy. He didn’t trust me at first, but after a while, we got to know each other quite well and he opened up his records to me. I think he maybe pushed the word up and down the shore that when I came around to talk about who’s doing what, they’d better sit down and talk to me so that their information would get into the survey and report, as well,” Hoven said. 

He conducted the economic survey for about 10 years, comparing growth sectors and where new developments were happening. 

Hoven also teamed with Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Fred Binkowski to develop business models for prospective aquaculture operations. “I was kind of in the middle again,” Hoven said. “I relied on Fred for the economic data for producing fish, but I also went the next step, which was telling them what they could expect when they market it and how to go about marketing it.” 

Hoven presented his business model at several national aquaculture meetings and developed an aquaculture directory for the Midwest. For that, he visited every aquaculture facility, which took him a year. 

His last project was perhaps Hoven’s most noteworthy. He chaired the group that developed the first Remedial Action Plan (RAP), directing restoration efforts for the St. Louis River after it had been designated an Area of Concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It also led to the founding of the St. Louis River Alliance, a nonprofit working to protect the river. 

Hoven chaired the board, a consortium of 25 people representing different businesses and organizations around the river, for five or six years. 

“At first, it was contentious because nothing was getting done. The businesses only could see dollar signs in the millions in front of them. We used to argue and yell at each other. Eventually, things got resolved and we published the first report, coordinating it with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s RAP efforts across the country,” Hoven said. 

That report provided an important blueprint for restoration efforts and has been updated over the years. “The river really was a mess, I’ll tell ya. But little by little, it’s getting cleaned up now,” Hoven said.—MEZ