Alaska Freezer Longline Fleet Files Suit Against National Marine Fisheries Service

The Freezer Longline Coalition (FLC) last week filed suit on behalf of its members against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and entered the Steller Sea Lion litigation opposing NMFS’s interim final rule and final Biological Opinion (Bi-Op). In the lawsuit, the FLC asks the Court to declare that the actions of NMFS were arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with law, and without observance of procedure required by law. Accordingly, the FLC requests that the Court vacate the Bi-Op, the Interim Final Rule, and use other sources of relief available to the Court.

The FLC’s mission is to promote public policy that facilitates the intelligent and orderly harvest of Alaska cod and other groundfish species in the Bering Sea /Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska and to encourage the reduction of waste and improve resource utilization in the longline fishery. The FLC also represents longline fishery interests in matters concerning the management of the longline fishery with respect to target species and protected resources.

Speaking on behalf of the FLC, FLC President David Little said “The National Marine Fisheries Service delayed the issuance of the Bi-Op for 5 years; during this period the SSL population has continued to increase. After 5 years, NMFS finally releases the Bi-Op, immediately declares an emergency situation, and decides to waive public processes; this is not a justified course of action.”

The complaint focuses among other things on NMFS’s arbitrary application of Steller sea lion mitigation measures to the freezer longline fleet. FLC Executive Director Kenny Down, commenting on the Bi-Op, stated “By far the most concerning issue to our sector is the insufficient reasoning given in the final Bi-Op for the mitigation measures to include the hook-and-line fleet. Including the longliners in these measures is arbitrary and not supported by the document, by NMFS’s past findings, or by NMFS’s own science.

“A case has simply not been made that including the longliners in the interim final rule’s mitigation measures contributes in a measurable way to Alaska cod availability for the Steller sea lion diet. The fishing method employed in the hook and line fleet, and historical patterns of activity, including very low overall catch, clearly show that the fleet meets the principles and objectives of the Bi-Op under current management measures, and as such longliners should not have been included in mitigation regulations implemented without due process on January 1st.”

Rob Wurm with Alaskan Leader Fisheries, one of the FLC charter members, said before the group in summation “The actions of the agency in this case gives us no other reasonable option apart from filing this complaint in court.”

For more information regarding the Freezer Longline Coalition, please contact the FLC office at 206-284-2522 or send inquiries to