Set Netter Ban Initiative Back in Court

An Alaska Superior Court Judge is considering oral arguments
in the latest round of a dispute over a decision by Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead
Treadwell to prevent a set netter ban initiative from getting on to the state’s
primary election ballot in August 2016.
Judge Catherine Easter heard those oral arguments on April
22 in Superior Court in Anchorage and said she would issue a decision within 60
The case stems from a ballot initiative application for an
urban commercial set net ban sought by an organization of Kenai Peninsula sport
fishing advocates, Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance.
Treadwell rejected the proposed statewide initiative that
would have banned commercial shore gill nets and set nets in non-subsistence
areas of the state.
His decision was based on an opinion from the state
Department of Law that the proposed initiative is prohibited under the Alaska
Constitution. The Law Department cited primarily a 1996 Pullen v. Ulmer decision
of the Alaska Supreme Court, a case that held that salmon are assets of the
state which may not be appropriated by initiative and that the preferential
treatment of certain fisheries may constitute a prohibited appropriation,
Treadwell said.
Anchorage attorney Matt Singer, legal counsel to the
sportsmen’s group, argued that Treadwell’s decision was wrong and dangerous. “Alaskan
voters have a long history of using ballot initiatives to protect fish and
game,” Singer said. Using that logic, several ballot initiatives, including a
ban on fish traps and same day aerial wolf hunting would never have been passed
by the Alaska public, he said.

Advocates for the commercial set netters, united as
Resources for All Alaskans, agree with Treadwell that a set netter ban would be
unconstitutional. Resources for All Alaska, whose six member board represents a
cross-section of Alaska commercial fishing interests and fishing communities,
said they would continue to supplement the state’s legal arguments and work to
avoid what they termed ill-conceived allocation of state assets by way of an
unconstitutional initiative.
Kenai Peninsula set netter Jim Butler, president of
Resources for All Alaskans, said the big deal here is the legal question.

“This is an allocation of a state asset by initiative, and
that is prohibited in the constitution,” said Butler. “Essentially we believe
the government was correct, that this was an inappropriate allocation of a
state asset by the initiative process.”