Conservation group, tribal interests file lawsuit over expanded trawling
The following press release is from the Center for Biological Diversity:
A lawsuit has been launched to challenge the damaging study of bottom trawls in the Bering Sea
Alaska Native tribes resist the expansion of commercial trawling
Morsi, Alaska— Several Alaska Native tribal governments and the Center for Biological Diversity filed formal notice today of their intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally licensing a multi-year pilot study of trawls in the northern Bering Sea.
Tribal entities in the area have expressed strong opposition to the project and any commercial trawling in the area.
The Savoonga Indigenous Village, Shishmarev Indigenous Village, the Aleut community on St. Paul Island, and the Center detailed concerns in today’s notice about how project data will be used to expand destructive commercial bottom trawl fishing.
“As stewards of the northern Bering Sea, our ground rules of taking only what is needed and giving nature a chance to replenish itself have been practiced for thousands of years,” said Ben Bongoyi, chief of the Savoonga Indigenous Village Tribal Council. “Nature has a delicate balance, especially the chain below it where every organism plays its part. Further change in this area will lead to higher mortality rates.
The National Marine Fisheries Service plans to conduct an extensive two-year pilot study without notifying the public or consulting affected Alaska Native tribes. They plan to start this summer. Bottom trawling is currently prohibited in the area. According to the service, the study aims to provide data that “will guide potential future management” of the region’s fisheries, meaning it could be open to bottom trawling as the Bering Sea warms rapidly and demersal fishes expand northward.
“The study was designed to repeatedly destroy an area of the ocean floor and then ascertain the extent of the remaining destruction after a year or more,” said Johnson Iningwok, chief of the tribal council of the indigenous village of Shishmarev. “Trawl fisheries are devastating to the habitats and benthic species we depend on as a matter of food security and cultural wellness.”
Today’s notice argues that the Service has not adequately analyzed the ecological and cultural harms bottom trawling may cause to subsistence resources, endangered species, and the ecosystem. It also highlights the agency’s failure to adequately consult with Alaska Native tribes and support the climate adaptation protections provided by the Northern Bering Sea region.
“In light of the rapid and dramatic environmental and human changes threatening our iconic marine environments in Alaska, we expect our federal government to act responsibly and follow its own regulations and directives to protect these vulnerable areas,” said John Wayne Milovidoff. , chief of the tribal council of the Aleut community on St. Paul Island. “This proposed study is a lever in the northern Bering Sea for commercial exploitation.”
Seafloor trawling is an extremely destructive method of fishing, causing severe, long-term damage to the seafloor ecosystem, releasing planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and increasing ocean acidification. Many marine mammals, seabirds, and fish in the northern Bering Sea feed primarily on benthic species. Walruses and bearded seals, major livelihood resources for Alaska Natives in the region, are particularly sensitive to the loss of benthic invertebrates.
“I am appalled that this trawl study has been greenlit with so much disregard for basic environmental laws and the Alaska Native tribes that could be harmed,” said Cooper Freeman, Alaska representative at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the trawl industry thinks it’s headed toward the northern Bering Sea, it’s in for a rude awakening. We stand with the tribes to ensure federal agencies protect this magnificent marine ecosystem from trawling.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.