NOAA pulls bottom trawl study in Northern Bering Sea after outcry from AK Native leaders

The bottom-trawl project was set to begin this summer. NOAA agreed to postpone until it receives input from AK Natives.

by | March 1, 2024

The multi-year study aimed to “determine the impacts and recovery times from trawling on bottom-dwelling species.”

AVCP Leadership Voices are Heard as NOAA Halts Bottom-Trawling Study

READ THE NOAA RESEARCH BRIEF HERE

NOTE: This is the same region that most recent NOAA trawl surveys showed “dismal” numbers of salmon, and the lowest levels of herring and capelin ever seen. RELATED STORY HERE

From Bethel, AK
February 29, 2024 —

-Strong opposition by the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) Executive Board and AVCP leadership and its partners has persuaded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) not to move forward with the Northern Bering Sea Effects Trawling Survey (NETS).

The NETS project proposed to look at the effects of commercial bottom-trawling activity on the seafloor and animals that live there by conducting bottom-trawling in the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area (NBSCRA). AVCP views such a project as potentially devastating to the bottom-dwelling species and their natural habitat.

NOAA officials have agreed to postpone such studies until the agency receives input from Alaska Natives. Tribes across Alaska continue to insist on being a part of fisheries research.

AVCP Chief Executive Officer Vivian Korthuis applauds the decision to halt the study saying, “Our voices are being heard and respected. It is unimaginable that a truly comprehensive study can be accurately executed without input from Alaska Natives. I applaud NOAA for stepping back and recommitting to deeper partnership with Tribes as we seek answers to protect our waters from the catastrophic effects of climate change and the unchecked commercial fishing fleets.”

AVCP’s Executive Board passed a resolution in December of 2023 which states opposition to the study saying, “The Executive Board of the Association of Village Council Presidents is opposed to bottom trawl research in the northern Bering Sea, supports a precautionary approach to protecting the northern Bering Sea – particularly in this time of rapid ecosystem change – and desires that the northern Bering Sea be designated permanently off limits for vessels using bottom trawl gear and other gear that is known to frequently hit the sea floor (such as “pelagic” trawl gear).”

In announcing its decision to not move forward with the NETS project, NOAA Fisheries committed to work with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC), the Alaska Regional Office (AKRO), and Tribal leaders on best practices for future consultations and other engagements. NOAA also commits to seeking input from Tribal leaders on updates to NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region’s consultation protocol and our Equity and Environmental Justice Plan, both expected to be completed in 2024.

AVCP is calling for the elimination of all commercial bottom-trawling activity to protect our fragile natural resources.

Bycatch by Bering Sea bottom trawlers Image credit: International Pacific Halibut Commission

About:

AVCP is a regional nonprofit tribal consortium comprised of the 56 federally recognized tribes of the YK Delta. The geographic boundaries of AVCP extend from the Yukon River Village of Russian Mission downstream to the Bering Sea coast, north up through Kotlik and south along the coastline to Platinum and then extending up the Kuskokwim River to Stony River, including Lime Village on the Stony River tributary. The area encompasses approximately 6.5 million acres, or 55,000 square miles, in Western Alaska.

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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