Sport Fishermen Launch New Attack on Cook Inlet Setnetters

A new sportfishing group on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is
proposing a ban on commercial set net fishing in areas it identifies as “urban”
part of the state, including Cook Inlet.
The announcement from the Alaska Fisheries Conservation
Alliance Inc., whose spokesman drew quick criticism from the Kenai Peninsula
Fishermen’s Association, which represents commercial setnetters.
The Alaska Department of Law must decide within 60 days
whether to allow backers of the sport fishing group’s proposed ballot
initiative to begin collecting the required 31,000 signatures to put the
measure on August 2016 primary election ballot.
The initiative calls for banning commercial set netting
around Anchorage, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Matanuska Susitna
Borough, Fairbanks, Juneau, Valdez and Ketchikan.
Joe Connors, owner of an upscale fish charter service and
lodge, is president of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance. Connors is also
a member of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, and Kenai River
Sport Fishing Association. Connors said their effort is being funded by wealthy
sport fishing advocate Bob Penny.
Conners said he is concerned about conservation of the king
salmon, a subject that has prompted heated discussion before the North Pacific
Fishery Management Council, which continues to wrestle with the huge incidental
catch of salmon in groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
In fact, there has been so much statewide concern over the
dwindling numbers of king salmon that on the heels of a conference on that
issue Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 included
$7.5 million for Chinook salmon research.
The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which
represents commercial setnetters on the Kenai Peninsula, has denounced the
AFCA’s plans to promote the ballot initiative as “the latest incarnation of Bob
Penney’s long-running effort to put more than 720 families and small business
owners who work in Cook Inlet’s setnet fishery out of business.”
Many king salmon runs around the state are in a cycle of low
abundance, but the Kenai River king salmon is not a stock of concern,” KPFA
said. “In fact the Kenai has met its minimum escapement goal every year for the
last 27 years, and exceeded the upper end of the escapement goal in 15 of those
United Fishermen of Alaska, the statewide commercial fishing
industry trade association, called the proposed initiative a staggering social
and economic assault on Alaska’s seafood industry. “Eliminating nets doesn’t
target the problem, which is in-river and ocean survival of small Chinook
salmon,” UFA said.
The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association said that AFCA
should instead focus on the state’s failure to conduct mandated habitat
research and protection, and that the Kenai River faces possible federal
intervention due to pollution problems.

Rob Williams, president of KPFA, said that while commercial
fishermen have to count every king salmon they catch, sport fishermen fishing
in-river in the Cook Inlet area do not have to count “jack” kings, the
one-ocean fish under 30 inches, who are also not counted by the area’s Alaska
Department of Fish and Game sonar counter because of their relatively small
size. “These guys are just trying to circumnavigate the whole Board of Fish
process and put extra pressure on Board of Fish members,” he said.