Setnet Initiative Off Ballot in Alaska

Alaska’s highest court has reversed a lower court ruling,
declaring unconstitutional a ballot initiative that would have banned set nets
in Cook Inlet, Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Valdez,
Juneau and Ketchikan.
In a ruling handed down on New Year’s Eve, judges on the
Alaska Supreme Court found that “set netters are a distinct commercial user
group that deserve recognition in the context of the constitutional prohibition
on appropriations.”
The court said that the proposed ballot initiative backed by
sport fishing advocates from the Kenai Peninsula “would completely appropriate
salmon away from set netters and prohibit the Legislature from allocating any
salmon to that user group”
The initiative, the judges said in their 22-page decision,
“would result in a give-away program of salmon stock from set netters to other
types of fishers, and it would significantly narrow the Legislature’s and Board
of Fisheries’ range of freedom to make allocation decisions.”
The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, and Resources
for All Alaskans, both of whom advocated on behalf of commercial set netters,
applauded the decision.
“We are thankful the court saw this initiative for what it
really was: a not so veiled attempt to eliminate more than 700 family run set
net fishing businesses in Upper Cook Inlet, said Jim Butler, president of
Resources for All Alaskans.
“Alaskan families who comprise Cook Inlet’s century-old East
Side set net fishery are both elated and relieved that Alaska’s Supreme Court
has ruled the anti-set net initiative unconstitutional,” said Andy Hall,
president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. “As a result of this
decision, hundreds of Alaskan families will go into the new year without the
threat of losing our businesses, our incomes, our investments and our way of
life hanging over our heads.”
Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which collected some
43,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, expressed

AFCA contends that set nets have the highest rate of
incidental catch of fish not targeted of any fishing method allowed in Alaska
and unacceptably high rates of mortality for fish that escape the netting.