Earlier this week, Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell handed down a decision that a petition to ban urban setnets was in violation of the state constitution and therefore would not appear on a ballot.
As in most cases of attempted gear bans, this initiative was created under the guise of conservation but was in reality a fish grab. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance — backed by longtime sportfishing proponent Bob Penney — submitted the initiative in an effort to put commercial setnet quota into the hands of guided anglers. The basis of their claim is that setnets take fish indiscriminately, including the worrisome king salmon.
However, setnetters who would be affected by the ban harvest only 13 percent of the late-run king salmon in the Kenai River. Compounding the lack of urgency for a ban is the fact that Kenai kings are not a stock of concern under the state’s rigorous management policies.
The ballot initiative, which would have benefited Alaska lodge owners, was not supported by most sportfishing groups. In fact, the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition (comprising mostly unguided anglers) submitted a letter to Treadwell opposing the initiative and claiming that it would damage critical relationships between sport and commercial interests.
According to many sources, Penney has suggested that he would like to reduce commercial fishing in favor of recreational fishing in Cook Inlet, which is the area that would have been immediately affected by the ban.
However, Alaska’s Constitution does not allow resource reallocation to take place by voter initiative. Rather, the state prefers to leave those decisions to fishery managers, as it should. The riskiest effect of this initiative, however, is that it sets a precedent for single user groups to target allocation on a statewide basis.
This fish fight has been going on for decades, and most certainly is not over now. Cook Inlet setnetters are prepared for the long haul, as should be commercial fishermen across that state and the rest of the country.
Photo: Cook Inlet setnetters in Kasilof cruise to the beach in front of Redoubt. Photo by Amy Grannum