Linda Behnken ’84 Wins Heinz Award for the Environment

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The $250,000 prize honors the alumna’s advocacy work to promote sustainable fishing.

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Linda Behnken '85 has won the Heinz Award for her advocacy work to promote sustainable fishing while supporting rural Alaskan fishing communities.
Linda Behnken ’84 has won the Heinz Award for her advocacy work to promote sustainable fishing while supporting rural Alaskan fishing communities. (Photo courtesy of the Heinz Family Foundation)
10/13/2020
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Linda Behnken ’84, who has fished commercially for nearly four decades, has received the Heinz Award for the Environment for her advocacy work, including her role as executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

One of seven recipients of this year’s $250,000 unrestricted cash awards, she joins another Dartmouth recipient, photojournalist and provostial fellow James Nachtwey ’70, who won a Heinz award in 2006. 

The award recognizes Behnken’s advocacy work promoting sustainable fishing practices while bolstering rural Alaskan fishing communities, according to the Heinz Family Foundation website.

“Working at the intersection of industry, community, and the environment, she has led efforts to support small-scale fishermen” and promote their access to the state’s fishery resources, the Foundation said in a brochure commemorating the awards. She has demonstrated that by engaging fishermen in research, management, and stewardship, “both the viability of small-scale fisheries and the ecosystem upon which fishing communities depend can be strengthened and sustained for future generations.”

The awards, created in honor of the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz, recognize individuals’ “extraordinary achievements” in arts and humanities; the environment; the human condition; public policy; and technology, the economy, and employment, according to the Foundation’s website.

The owner of FV Woodstock—“FV” stands for fishing vessel—, Behnken was featured in the 2019 film Last Man Fishing, which explores the seafood system through the eyes of small-scale fishermen.

Behnken has led ALFA since 1991. The association’s initiatives include a community-supported fishery and a partnership with the Marine Fish Conservation Network to advocate for national policies promoting sustainable fishery management.

It also led a multiyear grassroots campaign to secure a ban on commercial trawl fishing—a practice that has been described as clearcutting the ocean floor—in federal waters off southeast Alaska, the foundation said. That ban now includes more than 100,000 square miles, “enabling the protection of deep-sea corals and sponges, as well as long-lived rockfish populations.”

With fewer young people entering the trade, Behnken helped create the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, which partners with ALFA and other organizations to encourage and support new fishermen, according to the Foundation brochure.

Behnken also helped establish the association’s Fishery Conservation Network, which facilitates collaboration between scientists and Alaska fishermen on research designed to address resource and conservation challenges.

Behnken is a founding board member of Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and the Fishing Communities Coalition, a national association representing more than 1,000 independent fishermen and business owners. She was a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council from 1992 to 2001, and in 2016, President Barack Obama appointed her to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Behnken also has served as an industry adviser to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and as a member of the National Academy of Science Individual Fishing Quota Review Panel. In 2017, she received an honorarium from the Alaska Legislature. 

Behnken holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth in English and environmental science, and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

To read more, see the Heinz Awards website.

Aimee Minbiole can be reached at aimee.minbiole@dartmouth.edu.

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Aimee Minbiole