City of Bethel moves to join tribal lawsuit to revise groundfish management

City of Bethel officials are seeking permission from the U.S. District Court in Alaska to join in a federal lawsuit aimed at revising groundfish management to provide better protections for subsistence salmon fishing in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. 

The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the legal challenge in April on behalf of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) and the Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC). The tribal entities want federal fisheries managers to take a fresh look at how commercial trawl fisheries are managed in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI), where ecosystem-wide changes are happening due to climate change. 

Earthjustice said in a statement issued in early August that the state is facing a historic salmon crisis, while the commercial groundfish trawl harvesters continue to fish as they always have, despite sweeping ecosystem changes, including the harvest of salmon as bycatch. Meanwhile Alaska Natives who have traditionally depended on ocean resources for their cultural and sustenance values have had to cut back their harvests and adapt to changes in other ocean resources, their statement said. 

AVCP and TCC said they welcomed Bethel’s participation in their lawsuit. A city of Bethel legal memo states that 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.’”   

Vivian Korthuis, chief executive officer of AVCP, said that AVCP is grateful that the city of Bethel wants to join in the fight.   

“This lawsuit demands action which protects our way of life-past, present, and future,” Korthuis said. 


Brian Ridley, chairman of TCC, also praised the effort of the city of Bethel. The current system allows the economic and cultural burden of the decision-making process to fall directly on small coastal and river communities, he said.