Editor's Note: A paragraph in this article incorrectly stated that the Kenai River had met the lower end of its escapement goal. While several hundred thousand sockeye salmon have been counted by the Kenai River's sonar, that count is not the final escapement as significant harvest of the run happens upstream of the sonar.
A coalition of commercial fishermen have sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game over its management of the 2013 sockeye run and requested that the court compel the Fish and Game commissioner to allow up to 51 hours of extra fishing periods for Upper Cook Inlet setnetters.
In its 19-page lawsuit the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund — a commercial fishing advocacy group — accuses the commissioner of Fish and Game of reallocating fish from the commercial groups to other user groups by refusing to allow commercial setnet fishermen extra hours of fishing during the heaviest portions of the sockeye salmon run.
Setnet fishermen stand to lose between $20,000 to $30,000 a day when shut out of the fishery, according to the lawsuit.
Two affidavits filed by local setnet fishermen estimate losses of more than $200,000 during the 2012 season when setnet fishermen on the east side of Cook Inlet were largely kept out of the water.
Mark Ducker, a longtime commercial setnet permit holder and vocal advocate for commercial fishing, accused Fish and Game of targeting setnet fishermen for closure again during the 2013 season, while allowing other user groups to fish on what is shaping up to be near record runs of sockeye on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.
By Wednesday more than 363,000 sockeye have been counted in the Kasilof River — exceeding the river’s biological escapement goal; on Tuesday more than 240,000 sockeye swam past the sonar on the Kenai River.
Ducker estimated that he lost between $300,000-$400,000 during the 2012 season while Doug Blossom, a setnet permit holder and president of the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, estimated his losses at more than $200,000 last season.
According to the affidavit, Ducker saw drift gillnet fishermen near the Kasilof fishing close to his beach setnet sites when he was kept out of the water.
“I watched as drift gillnet boats fished directly next to my set gillnet buoy. In fact, drift gillnet boats were seen fishing inside the set gillnet boundaries,” Ducker wrote in his affidavit. “The Commissioner prevented set gillnet permit holders from fishing out of fear for king salmon, but drift gillnet fishermen — using the same nets I use — fished within inches of my site.”
A hearing has been set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.