Kenai Council joins list of organizations opposing potential setnet ban

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion (left) Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association setnetter Todd Smith walks back to his seat after testifying in support of a resolution while Snug Harbor Seafoods owner Paul Dale (right) looks on Wednesday Dec. 18, 2013 at the Kenai City Council meeting in Kenai, Alaska.

Joining the growing list of organizations vocalizing opposition to a proposed statewide initiative that would ban setnetting in certain parts of the state, the Kenai City Council Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution cementing its opposition to the initiative.

At least 15 people sat in on the council meeting and several testified in support of the Cook Inlet’s setnet fishery — the largest group of setnetters in the state that would be affected were the proposed ballot initiative were to pass.

The Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition, Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Salmon Alliance have all voiced opposition to the proposed initiative through media releases, resolutions and legal opinions sent to Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s office.

The proposed ballot initiative, sponsored by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, is currently undergoing legal review through Treadwell’s office. If the initiative passes muster, AFCA organizers have said they aim to have it on the ballot by 2016.

AFCA spokesperson Charles Fedullo responded to questions sent to the organization’s president Joe Connors calling opposition to the proposal an opportunity.

“...(AFCA) is interested in working with people across Alaska and discussing the initiative with organizations like the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the City of Kenai,” Fedullo wrote in an email. “Our goal in putting this initiative on the ballot in 2016 is to have a public debate on this issue throughout our state.”

Kenai Council members Terry Bookey and Ryan Marquis, speaking in support of the city’s resolution, said they were concerned that people who were not familiar with commercial setnetting could be making decisions about the gear type despite ignorance of its capabilities.

“The one thing that I just kind of intuitively believe is that we should not be setting management practices based on ballot box measures because then you have people like me, who are ignorant in that process, that are making decisions that affect resource allotment and things of that nature. If something like this had to happen this isn’t the venue or the methodology,” Bookey said.

Marquis and other council members received several written comments from local communities members in support of the city’s resolution which was originally proposed by council member and commercial setnetter Brian Gabriel and council member Bob Molloy.

“I’ve not heard a single communication in support of this ballot initiative and especially not anyone local even though I believe there are people that do support it,” Marquis said. “They’re not coming forward and they’re not speaking about. I think that this action is deceiving and that (it) smacks of cowardice.”

Fedullo disagreed with the idea that the initiative was primarily focused on Kenai.

Rather, he wrote in an email, it is geared toward protecting all fish in “urban areas” of Alaska.

“As Alaska’s population continue to grow, urban areas will naturally become larger, creating even more pressure on Alaska’s fisheries’ resources. Under this initiative, all urban areas of Alaska, those today and those in the future, will be protected from the waste that is caused by commercial setnets,” Fedullo wrote.

Treadwell’s office is required to issue a decision on the legality of the initiative by Jan. 6 and the lone dissenting voice on the city council, Tim Navarre, said he was uncomfortable supporting a resolution until then.

“I have a problem with this council, whether it’s this issue or some other issue, starting to take a position on an initiative that hasn’t even gone through the legal process,” he said. “The Lieutenant Governor hasn’t even ruled on it and we’re reacting to it.”

Though he eventually voted in favor of the city’s resolution, Navarre said he thought the city should wait to take a position.

“Sometimes reactive things get you into trouble,” he said.

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

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