Vessels moored in Cordova’s North Harbor in August 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

By Linda Behnken 

Dear editor: 

On December 19, 2023 the Amendment 80 (A80) trawl fleet sued to prevent implementation of the Bering Sea halibut bycatch regulation that ties bycatch limits to halibut abundance. While not unexpected, the refusal by the A80 fleet to share in the conservation responsibility for halibut is disturbing.   

Legal documents for this action identify that the A80 trawl companies were responsible for 23.8 million pounds of halibut mortality from 2010-2019. Bycatch levels not only exceeded limits set for the directed fishery but in some years bycatch threatened to preclude the local halibut fishery completely. 

Bycatch is deducted from the total allowable catch before catch limits are set for the directed halibut fishery. Bycatch limits, set when halibut were far more abundant, have never been triggered. Meanwhile catch limits for the directed halibut fisheries have been steadily reduced as halibut abundance has declined to protect the stocks from overharvest.     

After six years of analysis, testimony, and debate, the Council voted to connect bycatch limits to halibut abundance, lowering bycatch caps when stocks are low to prevent overfishing. Council action reduced bycatch limits below then current trawl bycatch levels by only 2.4%. Based on current abundance, the caps set by the Council action are now above the estimated 2023 trawl bycatch mortality number and above the trawl bycatch average from 2018-2022 – but even that sharing of conservation is too much for the A80 fleet.   


Over two-thirds of the direct earnings from the halibut fishery accrue to Alaska communities. Overall, 78% of fishery participants are Alaska residents and Alaska shore-based plants process almost all the halibut harvested off Alaska. The most recent data summarizing Southeast Alaska resident participation (2022) shows that Southeast Alaska residents fished 567 halibut permits, harvesting 6.2 million pounds of halibut worth $39.5 million in ex-vessel values. All that is at risk with this lawsuit. 

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and its long-term allies will intervene in the lawsuit on the side of federal managers to protect halibut stocks and our fishing communties.  

Linda Behnken is the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.