Peninsula fishing groups debate set net ban initiative

• Alaska Division of Elections to reach decision by Jan. 6

By Hannah Heimbuch
Homer Tribune
Shortly after the new year, Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and the State Division of Elections will decide whether an initiative to ban set nets off Alaska’s urban shores will go before the state’s voters.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance announced their proposal one month ago, citing the declining Kenai River king run as proof that stronger conservation methods are needed in the salmon fisheries. From the AFCA perspective, that means reducing the number of king salmon intercepted by shore-bound commercial fisheries targeting sockeye salmon.
“The 210-foot-long set nets are indiscriminate killers that catch everything swimming by,” said AFCA president Joe Connors. “For AFCA, what matters is that, within urban areas, commercial set net fishing is an undeniably antiquated and predatory method of harvesting fish that wastes Alaska’s fisheries resources by indiscriminately killing or injuring large numbers of non-target species.”
Connors, who spent six years as a Cook Inlet set netter, is a retired University of Alaska Anchorage professor and owns a lodge and fishing charter service on the Kenai River.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson - A set netter cleans his catch on the Homer Spit.

HOMER TRIBUNE/Sean Pearson -
A set netter cleans his catch on the Homer Spit.

Cook Inlet set net fisheries have faced significant restrictions in recent years as management biologists juggle both resource allocation and protection of minimum king salmon escapement. This most recent addition to that debate has drawn the attention of all user groups, as well as heated commentary from across the state.
An early November release from the Alaska Salmon Alliance criticized many points within the newly proposed initiative, deeming it a biased and inaccurate assessment of both the set net fishery and responsible conservation methods.
An ASA open forum held in Homer in November aimed to showcase the organization’s mission for collaborative management of fish resources, on this and many other issues. The forum was one of four ASA held this fall — in Palmer, Anchorage, Kenai and Homer — striving to gather a variety of fish user groups in one room for discussion.
The proposed ban was a hot topic among those attending in Homer, said ASA President Paul Dale of Snug Harbor Seafoods, adding that the crowd was mostly from the commercial fleet.
“There’s certainly a lot of sport fishers in Homer,” Dale said. “I would have liked them to attend. Part of what ASA would like to do is foster a dialogue between, you might say, competing or diverse user groups.”
ASA was established in 2011. The open forums are an excellent representation of what his organization is working toward, Dale said.
“I think what differentiates us from some groups is that we’re committed to working out problems within the framework of the existing mix of user groups,” Dale said. “There’s no question that we recognize there will be and should be an ongoing vibrant sport, personal-use, commercial fish and subsistence user mix in Cook Inlet. We think we can solve problems between us.”
Those who support the AFCA initiative, however, are calling for a more restrictive approach when it comes to harvesting salmon destined for the urban waterways populated by sport fishers.
“Set nets are fine for rural subsistence fishing, because there is no pressure on the resource,” Connors said. “However, in urban areas, the time has come to do what eight other states have already done – it is time for set nets to go.”
Those states include Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York and California. Washington and Oregon have placed significant restrictions on their set net fisheries.
“Under this initiative, all urban areas of Alaska — those today and those in the future — will be protected from the waste that is caused by commercial set nets,” Connors said.
In a letter to Kenai Peninsula assembly members last week, however, the ASA said the measure aims to unjustly truncate a set net livelihood thousands of Alaskans depend on.
“The ballot initiative to remove a meaningful and traditional resident-based sector of the Kenai Peninsula economy as part of an overall plan to reallocate to another sector based on questionable science, is a slap in the face to a long established Alaska tradition,” wrote ASA Executive Director Arni Thomson.
Homer resident and longtime commercial and sport fisherman Frank Mullen attended the November ASA meeting at Homer’s Elk’s Lodge, and said the organization presented a good opportunity for healthy discussion on a contentious issue.
The discussion pointed to a wide variety of causes and remedies for Cook Inlet salmon population dips, Mullen said. What he heard was a general consensus that the proposed ban was shortsighted in its approach to supporting the Kenai River kings.
“Management should look at all issues combined, including many of the major ones that exist with Kenai River habitat,” he said, noting that significant impacts on in-river spawning grounds should be a major concern for conservation.
“(There was) a lot of talk about the incredible pressure the river has received in the main stem of the river over the last 30 or 40 years,” Mullen said. “There have been as many as 600 guide boats in the summer.”
The ASA is currently circulating a “Protect Our Kings” petition that focuses on conservation of in-river habitat.
Despite the widely differing views on how to best protect Kenai kings, Mullen said there are undeniably some hard decisions facing management in the near future. He hopes those hard choices can be made in a way that allows users of the resource to collaborate, rather than pitting one against another.
“It ought to be approached in terms of science and fish husbandry in a way that reflects that,” Mullen said. “And I’m afraid that it’s not.”
While debate over this initiative, and the general future of Kenai River kings, are both significant pending issues for the Kenai Peninsula, these decisions have implications that reach across the state, Dale said.
“More fundamentally, I believe commercial fish people across the state understand that the way we share resources, and specifically between sport and commercial users, is not just a Cook Inlet phenomenon,” Dale said. “It’s happening and becoming part and parcel for decision-making in Southeast Alaska, and parts of Prince William Sound. So it’s no longer a Cook Inlet-only circumstance.”
Mullen agrees with the broad implications of this issue, calling the Kenai River a national treasure that should be protected as such.
“If you let things go just in an unchecked, timidly managed scenario, you’re going to end up with a dead river,” Mullen said. “The people at this meeting are certainly not interested in seeing that happen.”
Mullen said he can see more than one valid argument and many vested interests in this situation, but ultimately is rooting for only one side.
“There are certainly some deeply entrenched positions on either side of the story here, I just hope that in the end the fish will win,” he said. “Right now, the course we’re on and the track that’s been set over the last 30 years, I don’t see how the fish can win.”
If the ballot measure is deemed legal by the state, supporters will have one year to collect the required signatures to get it on the ballot. The next hurdle would be passing it through the 2015 Alaska Legislature, with a final stop on the statewide ballot in August of 2016.
Should that happen, Mullen said, the “fish wars” Alaska has seen in recent years will most certainly be taken up a notch.
“It’s going to be ugly,” he said, “because when one group tries to take the livelihood away from another group, they’re going to work hard to defend themselves.”

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Posted by on Dec 10th, 2013 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

7 Responses for “Peninsula fishing groups debate set net ban initiative”

  1. Tom Rollman says:

    Mr. Connors obviously stands to gain financially from a setnet ban though his lodge on the Kenai. Shouldn’t all user groups including drifters, dipnetters and sports fishermen bear the burden of conservation? As a lifelong setnetter in both Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay I take great offense to several statements made by Mr. Connors in this article. He calls setnets “indiscriminate killers”, “predatory”, and that they are “killing or injuring large numbers of non-target species”. False, false, and false! Besides the 5 species of salmon the only other non-targeted fish we ever catch consitently are starry flounder, a trash fish that we throw back. Removing one user group from a fishery is highly allocative and most likely illegal. It is the AK Board of Fisheries’ job to handle allocation issues, not the voters. I guarantee that if this goes forward Mr. Connors and others that support this ludicrous proposal will have a war on their hands. Other States have bans in place because they have no fish…. We have thriving fisheries with a world-class management system. Don’t get greedy and let the process we have in place do its job.

    • kj says:

      wow mr connors wants to ban commercial fishing…. then he goes on to talk about his trophy lodge and guide service on the river …hmmmmm yeah you sir ARE the problem

  2. Matt Trail says:

    I think they should switch year to year, setnetters and sporfishers. That way the river could have a rest and the sportfisher’s would have a good year the next year. Also, I’m not a commercial fisherman, so I think that the fleet both sport and commercial should have quotas like with the flatfish. Then fish and game could tell how the run was doing based on what was being caught. I wonder what makes more impact, the fisherpersons both sport and fleet, or something on the high seas we can’t see or can’t control like foriegn fisheries? I’m open for an education either way.

  3. Fishin for Tuition says:

    And Governor Bill Egans, “distressed fisheries list” as published in the Limited Entry Act of 1974, also enacted by the voter? Evidently if one needs a fleet reduction in Alaska, just get on down to the Corrupt Bastards Club headquarters in Petersburg Alaska.
    Why did the Southeast Salmon Purse Seine Fleet, get a fleet reduction, when they didn’t even make the official “distressed list” in 1974? Oh and just in case you’ve not been fishing longer that two weeks, no “optimum Number Study” that SHALL, be required before a federally funded buyback is enacted? When the United Fishermen of Alaska’s Criminal of the Year, get a 1st Class tickket to that Petersburg Virginia Prison Camp, and have ignored the whole state for decades, except for Petersburg’s Corrupt Bastards Club, along with the rest of both State and Federal Officials, evidently the first words in the ACt “NO Special Privileges…do not apply as long as your from the Special Privileges Club, from the South East Seiners.
    The NMFS, and their cronies need to review a little constitutional law relating to the Alaska Salmon Fisheries. Just go ask assistant Attorney General named Lance Nelson, about his corrupt bastards club, shown best in Grunert v. State Board of Fisheries, and Carlson v CFEC. When you can’t even read english, apply to the Corrupt Bastards Club, where every flunkie always finds work.

  4. AKfisher says:

    It’s going to be ugly,” he said, “because when one group tries to take the livelihood away from another group, they’re going to work hard to defend themselves.”

    One group has already taken the livelihood away from another group. Have you been to Soldotna or Kenai the past few summers? It is a ghost town , except the two weeks the sockeye are in. So the commercial fleet and foreign high seas fishermen have taken away the sport fishing, lodges and local stores way of life. Anchor Point and Ninilchik are ghost towns now. Most of the businesses are either gone or bankrupt. Homer has lost most charters and the sport fishing stores are hurting. It has already happened……….

    • kj says:

      buisness is hurting… didnt a gigantic sportsmens wearhouse just pop up in the middle of town.” hey this town is drying up lets open up a shop and lose money” .. i live in soldotna it is far froma ghost town june threw july i dont think its hurting

      • Fishin for Tuition says:

        business is hurting?

        You should move to Alaska, and read the Alaska Supreme Court.

        In Grunert I, we stuck down former 5 AAC 15.359 (2002) because it was “fundamentally at odds with the Limited Entry Act.” 30 We explained that a central premise of the limited entry system is that permit holders are individuals who actively fish.31  We also explained that the Limited Entry Act was enacted to protect “economically dependent fisher[s].” 32  Our main concern with the cooperative regime created under former 5 AAC 15.359 was that it did not require “active participation” of all Chignik salmon purse seine permit holders.33  The Chignik cooperative fishery scheme was incompatible with the limited entry system “because it allow [ed] people who [were] not actually fishing to benefit from the fishery resource.” 34

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