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Proposed set net ban initiative rejected

Posted: January 7, 2014 - 1:04am  |  Updated: January 16, 2014 - 11:06am

JUNEAU — Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on Monday rejected a proposed initiative that sought to ban commercial shore gill nets and set nets in non-subsistence areas.

Supporters of the proposal billed it as a conservation effort and were seeking to move to the signature-gathering process to qualify the proposal for the ballot. Critics, like the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, called the proposal a fish grab by opposing interests.

A news release from the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which offered the proposal, said the group was reviewing a possible appeal.

The alliance’s executive director, Clark Penney, called the rejection “puzzling.” He said in the release that he struggled to see “the logic or the legality” of the decision.

The alliance said the proposal is aimed at protecting fish in non-subsistence areas that are threatened by things such as overfishing or by-catch. But the state Department of Law in its review said the proposal is sponsored by individuals, who, besides having an interest in salmon conservation, support sport and personal use fishing on the Kenai River.

The review, signed for Attorney General Michael Geraghty by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar, said the proposal, while written to apply statewide, is more targeted and would affect only the set net commercial salmon fishery in Cook Inlet. According to the review, the East Side Set Net commercial salmon fishery in Cook Inlet generally targets sockeyes but also catches Chinook “prized by sport fishermen” in the process. The fishery also competes with personal-use salmon fisheries in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, creating a long-simmering political tension, the review states.

The proposal “would significantly undermine” a constitutional ban on so-called appropriation by initiative, because the measure is “designed to appeal to the self-interests of a majority user group by effectively transferring salmon from a much smaller minority of commercial users,” the review states.

There are about 740 Cook Inlet set net permits, about two-thirds of which are actively fished, according to the review. That compares to about 250,000 sport fishers in Cook Inlet waters and drainages in 2012 and the tens of thousands of personal use permits a year for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the review states.

The review also found that the proposal would affect the ability of the Board of Fisheries and the Legislature to make allocation decisions among competing users.

“Were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish” to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users, the review states.

Arni Thomson, executive director of the Alaska Salmon Alliance, said that group was “elated” by Treadwell’s decision.

“Though it was highly unlikely to ever pass, the Set Netter Ban would have instantly destroyed the jobs of more than 500 Alaska families who set net to make a living,” Thomson said in a release. “We are happy to see it dead on arrival.”

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