Lawsuit questions ways that managers have evaluated environmental impacts of trawl fisheries
By Evan Erickson
June 15, 2023
LW Note: Bethel, the largest community on the Kuskokwim River, is located just outside of the region that includes 20 villages that belong to the Alaska Native operated Coastal Villages Region Fund. CVRF is one of six Alaska CDQ group that gets annual shares of groundfish and crab from the Bering Sea. CVRF owns several large fishing vessels including the 341 pollock trawler, Northern Hawk. Coastal Villages is headquartered in Anchorage and Seattle.
The City of Bethel has officially joined a lawsuit calling into question the ways that federal fisheries managers have evaluated the environmental impacts of groundfish trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. This includes the massive Alaska pollock fishery, which involves significant amounts of chum and chinook salmon bycatch and is being accused by many of playing an outsized role in declining salmon numbers.
City of Bethel councilmember Sophie Swope recently introduced the resolution to back the lawsuit, which received unanimous approval. She spoke with KYUK on June 15 about what this means for the future.
Swope: The resolution was to join the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents in their federal lawsuits regarding the NOAA fishery guidelines.
KYUK: What happened there?
Swope: So there was a new catch limit that was introduced. And this catch limit was based on data that was provided in 2004 and 2007. So there’s many environmental impacts, and change that’s happening globally with temperature that wasn’t taken into consideration. So they’re pushing forward and defending our access to food.
Ninety-eight percent of the region relies on salmon. And it’s just a really important resource that we need to continue to maintain. And jumping on to their litigation, the municipality of Bethel is looking at it as not only a means of access to food for our community and the surrounding villages, but also a source of tax revenue for the city.
KYUK: So you have the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) and Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) on the lawsuit. And now the city of Bethel is joining in as an amicus or intervener. What does that mean, for people who don’t understand words like that?
Swope: Yeah. So it essentially means that we’re an ally of the people pursuing the lawsuit. And any time that there comes for added insight, or to provide more information to the court and the judge, we then have that ability to chime in. But I think it’s really neat that a municipality is siding with the abundance of tribes that are within AVCP and TCC.
KYUK: How did you come up with the idea? You’ve been a council member for how long?
Swope: For about nine months I’ve been a council member now. It actually wasn’t my sole idea to join in on it. This was an active ongoing conversation between our legal counsel, the city clerk, and Mark Springer. And he really got the conversation started, but I was able to introduce the resolution.
KYUK: How do you balance what you’re doing on the council with this type of resolution with the other stuff you do, like Mother Kuskokwim?
Swope: Yeah, so I’m currently directing the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition, which is a region-wide fight against the Donlin Gold mine. I’m on city council, and also recently was just sworn in to the tribal council here at ONC. There is a lot to balance, but I feel that having that passion that I do to not only better the community, but make sure that resources are available for future generations all kind of strings together. And I collectively just want to see a better outcome for the [Yukon-Kuskokwim] Delta being the hub of of the entire 55,000 square miles. We kind of have to set a little bit of precedence in how we run things.