A couple weeks ago I ran into long-time Norwalk resident Anita Behnken at the Stop and Shop.  She was eager to tell me that she was headed to the White House later that week where her daughter Linda Behnken was being honored as a Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood.  And who wouldn’t be excited about that? The White House! Wow!

Linda Behnken ready to fish on her boat Woodstock

Linda Behnken ready to fish on her boat Woodstock

Linda, a Norwalk native, has been fishing commercially in Alaska for over 30 years, working her way up from deckhand to captain and owner. On her 40 foot fishing vessel, Woodstock, she longlines for halibut and sablefish in the spring and trolls for king and coho salmon in the summer.  The crew for her 5 day trips are sons Hahlen and Rio along with her husband, Kent Barkhau.  

In addition to fishing, Linda has taken an active role in promoting the health and sustainability of the fishery, taking on the overarching issues of the industry.  She is deeply involved in organizations working on the viability of the fish population and the livelihoods of the fishing community – problems that are confronting coastal communities in Alaska, New England, and around the world.

In case you think that doesn’t involve much time or commitment, here’s what Linda has been up to: executive director of ALFA (Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association) since 1991; nine years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council; currently a US Commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission;  industry advisor to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the National Academy of Science Review of Individual Fishing Quotas; in 2009 awarded the National Fisherman’s Highlander Award for work promoting sustainable fisheries; board president of the Halibut Coalition; founding member of the Fishing Community Coalition; policy co-chair of the Marine Fish Conservation Network; and a founding board member of the Alaska

Linda and the other Champions of Change at The White House

Linda and the other Champions of Change at The White House

Sustainable Fisheries Trust. Whew!

No wonder she’s being honored at the White House. She’s making a difference!

Linda is eager to share credit with the amazing team of people – staff and fishermen – at ALFA, collaborators in the many coalitions and networks in which ALFA  participates, as well as her family.  Accomplishments have been the result of a deeply shared commitment to sustainable fisheries and sustainable fishing communities.  

These Alaskans’ efforts to protect the waters of Southeast Alaska from industrial trawl fishing have enabled the fish population to rebuild and the fishing communities to maintain their social and economic health.  The industry has come together to promote resource management that protects local fisheries.

Hours of meetings, days of planning, and years of leadership took Linda to the White House, where she was recognized for achievements which include mentoring young fishermen, encouraging collaboration and fostering resource stewardship.  At SEASWAP she works to keep fishermen and whales out of each other’s way.  Linda has worked to ensure that the next generation of fishermen come from the coastal-community tradition of sustainable fishing.

The two day awards event at the White House included working sessions with her fellow attendees and meetings with White House and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) staff.  She and her fellow honorees enjoyed a dinner at the White House prepared by fellow Sustainable Champion Chef Bun Lai, owner of Miya’s Restaurant in New Haven.  Bun Lai, known for his insistence on sustainable seafood at his highly praised restaurant, prepared a dinner featuring Japanese knotweed, barbecued catfish ribs, lionfish sushi, and Asian carp sushi – all from invasive species.

Landing a halibut

Landing a halibut

I asked Linda, a graduate of Norwalk Public schools, if we can see the results of her fishing or her work on behalf of the fishery here in Norwalk.  It’s likely that some of the halibut she has caught over the years has ended up at the fish counter at Stew’s or in the case at Pagano’s, but the fish is not branded, so you can’t know for sure.

Six years ago, Linda helped to launch Alaska’s first Community Supported Fishery.  Like CSAs from local farms, the CSF puts you in direct touch with the source of the seafood. Thanks to the work of Linda’s sister Nancy, also an Alaska fisherman, there’s a group of participants here in Norwalk. You too can get in on the responsibly-caught, impeccably-fresh Alaska fish by signing up at http://www.alaskansown.com/.  They’ll ship you the good stuff every month.

Anita has every reason to be excited, proud, and ready to talk about Linda’s achievements.  Who wouldn’t be?  And I hear she had a great time at the White House too!

Alaska photos by ASMI/Joshua Roper photography