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Sport group targets set netters

Alliance looks to ban setnets in 'urban' areas of state

Posted: November 7, 2013 - 10:02pm  |  Updated: November 8, 2013 - 1:03pm
In this 2012 file photo, Parker Peck pulls a skiff out of the water Monday while helping out at the Frostad family setnet sites on Salamatof beach in Kenai. Setnetters in Cook Inlet are central to a recent ballot measure proposition which would ban setnetting in "urban" areas of the state.   Rashah McChesney
Rashah McChesney
In this 2012 file photo, Parker Peck pulls a skiff out of the water Monday while helping out at the Frostad family setnet sites on Salamatof beach in Kenai. Setnetters in Cook Inlet are central to a recent ballot measure proposition which would ban setnetting in "urban" areas of the state.

The group has changed names, expanded its mission and has members associated with another controversial sportfishing association but the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has not deviated from its original goal ­­— to shut down setnetting in the Cook Inlet.

The group filed a ballot initiative application Wednesday that seeks to ban setnetting in what it defines as “urban” parts of the state including the entire Cook Inlet, Valdez, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan.

Calling setnets “indiscriminate killers,” President Joe Connors said the organization’s goal was to have the initiative on the August 2016 primary ballot.

If the Department of Law determines the proposition to be legal, the group will have to gather more than 30,000 signatures to get the initiative onto a statewide ballot.

The fledgling organization counts among its backers, Bob Penney a powerful sportfishing advocate who holds considerable political sway in and is a founding member of another Cook Inlet organization — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Other members include several current members of the KRSA including Kristin Mellinger, Joe Connors and volunteer Dennis Gease.

Connors, a retired University of Alaska Anchorage Professor and former West Side Cook Inlet Setnet fisherman who now runs a Kenai River lodge last fished a setnet in 1983 but during the five years he operated one he said he caught any number of ducks, birds, flounder, sharks and king salmon.

To that end, Connors said he wanted to see the setnet fishery shut down permanently in certain parts of the state.

This is not the first time this year that the six-month old organization has stepped in to keep setnetters out of the water.

In July, the group intervened in a lawsuit filed by the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which requested more fishing time for setnetters and accused the department of reallocating harvest of the sockeye run to other users.

Then called the Kenai King Conservation Alliance, the group had a goal of conserving Kenai Kings, said Penney in an August interview.

Penney said the Cook Inlet run of sockeye salmon could be managed without the setnet fleet as indicated by the 2012 fishing season when setnetters were largely kept out of the water by Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers in response to low numbers of king salmon.

However Jeff Regnart, director of the commercial fisheries division of Fish and Game, said it would be difficult to manage the Cook Inlet sockeye run without the setnets as the fish don’t travel in the same part of the inlet from year to year and are sometimes too close to shore for the drift fleet to catch them.

Ken Tarbox, former Fish and Game research biologist said eliminating the drift fleet would never be able to keep up with the sockeye run without wiping out fish headed for the northern part of the district where several species of pacific salmon have failed to return in adequate numbers.

Local and statewide commercial fishing organizations have yet to officially respond to the proposal.

Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, wrote in an email that the group was not ready to officially respond to the proposition.

UFA is a commercial fishing organization that represents 36 commercial fishing groups in Alaska.

“Folks are still looking over the initiative and analyzing,” Curry wrote.

The Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, a group that represents primarily setnetters but includes other commercial fishermen in the Cook Inlet met Thursday to discuss the initiative.

President Robert Williams wrote in an email that the group would have a media release soon.

Tarbox said the culture of the Kenai Peninsula was such that user groups had tense relationships with one another as each tried to get a portion of the mixed-stock fishery.

“These are neighbors and friends and coworkers and I just think this is really sad for anybody even to be going down this path and putting the community through this because now it has come to this debate as to whether or not we want to have these people in our community because if we eliminate their livelihood they may leave,” Tarbox said.


Reach Rashah McChesney at

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Beach Boss
Beach Boss 11/13/13 - 10:15 am
Full Circle

Once again Pengy I am not just using 2013 data.

Now I think we are getting somewhere. Yes I do agree that there is a ton of reasons we are in a cycle of low abundance. I have never been one to say that it is just one user group. I do think there are things that need to be fixed in river. We are definetly overharvesting the mainstem spawners in the early run.

But yes I agree ALL user groups need to take restrictions in times of low abundance. Eliminating one group so that the other group can continue the party is just not right. You can not say ESSN have not shared in this conservation burden. At least inriver guides can move to other species and somewhat operate their businesses in a limited fashion. We sit on the beach and watch the sockeye swim by.

markw3 11/13/13 - 10:19 am
the difference

The point is not whether or not one group kills more Kings than another... we know that when fishing unrestricted, both user groups are efficient and effective at killing Kings. So both groups need to be restricted! But sport fishermen can be restricted to catch and release, and wind up taking a relatively insignificant total number of Kings, but when the set net gauntlet is laid out they can kill hundreds or even thousands in a single fishing period! That's the difference.
I have absolutely no problem releasing every single King Salmon I catch for the rest of my life, but I understand the annoyance when a sport fisherman is asked to release a King Salmon for conservation purposes, while the set nets are fishing and killing kings by the hundreds on that very same day. It's really unfortunate that there is no catch and release when it comes to set netting, but it's the plain and simple truth. So develop another means at which to harvest sockeye! Fish traps, fish wheels, any other ideas??? Then, and only then, will sport fishermen leave you alone, and even stand by you in unity, during times of high sockeye abundance and low king salmon abundance.

kenai123 11/17/13 - 03:46 am

Please stop wasting your time repeating the same incorrect assumptions. CALL YOUR LOCAL ADF&G OFFICE and ASK THEM HOW MANY RIVERS IN ALASKA ARE HAVING KING PROBLEMS. They will tell you that all of our rivers are experiencing the same king problem. CALL OUR ADF&G, THEY WILL TELL YOU THAT IT IS A STATEWIDE KING PROBLEM AND THEREFORE A SALTWATER PROBLEM.

smithtb 11/18/13 - 08:21 am

HEY LOOK, OUT THERE IN THE SALTWATER!!! Kenai 123, you are operating right out of the Ricky-Bobby playbook! Make everyone look to the salt so they will forget what is happening right in our backyard, where we have the most control. This summer for instance, the state, at KRSA's request, spent nearly a MILLION dollars on a poorly planned and unsuccessful study to track how Kings migrate up the Inlet, with hopes of cutting that 13% setnet exploitation even lower. All the while telling fishermen that there is no funding for things like smolt-out studies for all species to tell how productive the Kenai really is, or riparian habitat assessment studies that are REQUIRED by law but haven't been performed in over a decade.

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