Court Approves Proposed Set Net Ballot Initiative

An Alaska Superior Court judge has cleared the way for a proposed ballot initiative designed to ban commercial set net harvests in urban areas of Alaska.

The decision handed down in late July in Anchorage by Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter came in a case brought by a group of sport anglers organized as The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, against Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who earlier rejected the proposed initiative.

Easter found that the proposed ballot initiative did not appropriate a public asset, did not result in a give-away program or usurp legislative control over the salmon allocation process. She ordered that the proposed initiative be certified.

The ruling allows the Alaska Division of Elections to prepare signature packets, so that supporters of the measure can begin gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the Alaska primary election ballot in August 2016.

The alliance says its goal is to protect fish in non-subsistence areas that are threatened by overfishing or incidental harvest.

Bob Penney, a director of the Alliance, and board member of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, called the set net ban initiative “a conservation-based approach that is limited to one style of fishing – set nets. They are a wasteful means of fishing that kill or maim everything in their path,” he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents commercial set net fishermen, said its members were “saddened by the Alaska Superior Court’s decision to allow the dishonest and un-Alaskan initiative effort to ban set nets in urban areas of Alaska to move forward.”

The initiative, said KPFA, “has nothing to do with conservation. It has everything to do with greed and a sense of entitlement by a small group of people. If Alaska allows management of its resources at the ballot box, our entire resource-based economy is at risk.”

The set net fishery on the Kenai Peninsula supports more than 700 family owned small businesses and thousands of related processing jobs, KPFA said.

Jim Butler, president of Resources for All Alaskans, a statewide coalition of concerned citizens and organizations from fishing communities, said the set netter ban “would destroy jobs and have a massive, negative impact on the businesses, industries, and communities that they support throughout Southcentral Alaska.

“The precedent set by this initiative alone will have permanent negative effects on Alaska industry and development,” Butler said. “If we allow groups to allocate specific resources by initiative, who will be next? Mining? Oil and Gas? It’s wrong and fundamentally un-Alaskan.”

His organization is reviewing the Superior Court opinion and is strongly encouraging the office of Alaska’s Attorney General to appeal “because we think it is wrong on the law,” Butler said. “We think the initiative is an inappropriate allocation of state assets.”