City of Bethel Seeks to Join Tribal Lawsuit to Revise Groundfish Management

The legal challenge aims to reexamine management of groundfish trawlers to better protect Yukon-Kuskokwim salmon runs


Gage Hoffman, Association of Village Council Presidents, (907) 543-7308

Taryn Calhoun, Tanana Chiefs Conference, (907) 452-8251 ext. 3570

Elizabeth Manning, Earthjustice, (907) 277-2555

The City of Bethel requested permission last week from Alaska’s U.S. District Court to join in a federal lawsuit seeking to revise groundfish management to better protect subsistence salmon fishing in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.

The legal challenge, originally filed in April by the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) and Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), with representation from Earthjustice, is asking federal fisheries managers to take a fresh look at how they are managing industrial trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands where ecosystem-wide changes are occurring due to climate change.

Bethel’s move to join the lawsuit highlights the far-reaching impacts of fisheries management decisions in a rapidly changing climate. The City’s motion emphasizes that salmon declines affect the subsistence needs of the region’s residents as well as the City’s economy.

“We are grateful that the City of Bethel is seeking to join us in this vitally important fight. Our way of life is being impacted here in Bethel and across the region,” said AVCP Chief Executive Officer Vivian Korthuis. “This lawsuit demands action which protects our way of life-past, present, and future.”

“We appreciate the City of Bethel’s call to action recognizing that the current fish management system is relying on old data and completely ignores traditional and local knowledge. The system allows the economic and cultural burden of the decision-making process to fall directly on small coastal and river communities,” said TCC Chief Chairman Brian Ridley. ​

“Fisheries managers are continuing to make decisions including annual catch limits based on severely outdated environmental analyses that do not consider the loss of sea ice, shifts in species distribution and abundance, salmon declines, seabird die offs, and ecosystem-wide upheaval resulting from a rapidly changing climate,” said Earthjustice attorney Kate Glover. “Relying on such outdated studies is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.”

Alaska is facing a historic salmon crisis while the groundfish trawling industry continues to fish in a destructive manner much as it has for decades despite sweeping ecosystem changes. Alaska Native people who depend on ocean resources to support their cultures and ways of life have had to cut back their catch of salmon and adapt to changes in other ocean resources while trawlers are allowed to keep catching — and wasting — salmon as bycatch.

AVCP and TCC collectively work on behalf of nearly 100 Tribes and communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region. The two Tribal organizations welcome Bethel’s participation in the lawsuit.

The Bethel City Council adopted a unanimous resolution in May directing the City to join in the lawsuit because of the cultural, nutritional, and economic importance of salmon to Bethel residents — and because Bethel’s sales tax base depends on fishing-related sales income.

A City of Bethel legal memo states the federal government’s failure to “responsibly manage commercial trawling to limit salmon bycatch is ‘literally having an adverse downstream impact on the City’s tax base and residents.’”


Association of Village Council Presidents: Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) is a regional non-profit tribal consortium comprising 56 federally recognized tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. AVCP’s region is approximately 55,000 square miles, with a population of 27,000 residing in 48 communities along the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and Bering Sea coast. The residents of the region are primarily Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan. AVCP is dedicated to supporting the interests of its member tribes, including through community development, education, social services, culturally relevant programs, and advocacy. AVCP promotes self-determination and protection and enhancement of cultural and traditional values. As part of its mission, AVCP has long been committed to advocating for the protection of the Bering Sea and its resources.

Tanana Chiefs Conference: Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), organized as Dena’ Nena’ Henash, or “Our Land Speaks,” is a sovereign Tribal consortium with 42 member Tribes across Interior Alaska, including 37 federally recognized Tribes.  TCC is an Alaska Native non-profit organization that provides health and social services for the more than 18,000 Alaska Native people in the Interior Alaska region. TCC’s region covers 235,000 square miles of Interior Alaska that comprises the Yukon Koyukuk, Yukon Tanana, Lower Yukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Yukon Flats, and Upper Tanana subregions. TCC is charged by its member Tribes with advancing Tribal self-determination and enhancing regional Native unity.  Its mission is to provide a unified voice to advance sovereign tribal governments through the promotion of physical and mental wellness, education, socioeconomic development, and culture of the Interior Alaska Native people.

The City of Bethel: The City of Bethel, located along the Kuskokwim River, is home to more than 6,000 residents and serves as a hub for surrounding villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.

An aerial view of the Kuskokwim River.
The Kuskokwim River. (Peter Griffith / NASA)

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