Setnetters voice concerns to council

The mid-season setnetting closures mandated Tuesday drew a crowd so large that people trailed into the hallway during Wednesday's Kenai City Council meeting.

Mayor Pat Porter even allowed people to sit on the ground in front of the chairs and in the aisle between the chairs, acknowledging that the numbers of people in the chamber surpassed fire code.

So many were concerned that she devoted the first hour of the meeting to public comments -- nearly all of the speakers were setnetters.

One setnetter, Andy Hall, questioned the reliability of the sonar equipment used to count the king salmon population, saying that the data from the sportfishing division was not reliable.

"I'm happy to sit on the beach for legitimate conservation reasons," he said. "I don't think that exists right now."

Other fishermen were angry that dipnetters were allowed to continue their operations. Jim Butler, setnetter and former board member at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, wanted to know why they were not regulated more. He said that they pollute the shoreline with fish guts and heads.

This city is being turned into the slaughtering grounds of Alaska," he said, explaining that seagulls drop the fish remains on his property.

Setnetter Gary Hollier said he felt the source of the problem was from a larger industry and a lack of commercial representation on the Board of Fish.

"What we're really fighting, to cut to the chase ... it's totally guides and big business that are hurting us," Hollier said.

Those who spoke asked Porter to write a letter to Gov. Sean Parnell explaining the severity of the setnetting situation. There was loud applause when she said she would send it Thursday.

Porter also encouraged action beyond just a letter to the governor, suggesting phone calls or holding meetings among the concerned.

"You will have strength in numbers," she said. "That's a proven fact wherever you go, and I think that you're on the road to making that happen."

Chris Every, a setnetter from Kenai, said he agreed change will only occur with numbers and announced a rally being held today from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Kenai park strip.

The council also set a work session to discuss helping the Kenaitze Indian Tribe raise $15 million for its new health center. They will meet Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. to work through the issue before discussing it during their next regularly scheduled council meeting Aug. 3 at 6 p.m.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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