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Judge rules setnet ban ballot initiative allowable

Posted: July 23, 2014 - 4:17pm  |  Updated: July 23, 2014 - 7:22pm

ANCHORAGE — Voters could to be asked to decide whether to ban setnets in certain parts of Alaska under a court decision made Wednesday.

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA, filed a ballot initiative petition in November seeking to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state, which would primarily impact Upper Cook Inlet setnetters.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter overturned Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s decision not to certify the proposed ballot initiative in a Wednesday ruling and ordered the lieutenant governor to certify the initiative and allow proponents to continue the process toward getting the question on the 2016 ballot.

Treadwell struck down the initiative in January based on a state Department of Law opinion asserting that it would be a prohibited appropriation.

AFCA appealed, and during oral argument, attorney Matt Singer said that organization believed the initiative is not an appropriation, and that the public’s right to weigh in on fish and wildlife management using the ballot initiative process should be interpreted broadly, with the appropriations limitation interpreted narrowly.

Upper Cook Inlet setnetters target sockeye salmon for commercial harvest. Their permits also allow to them to target other salmon species, including kings, that swim into the nets.

Eliminating setnetters in Cook Inlet would likely result in increased catch for in-river sport fishermen, personal-use fishermen, and for the fleet of drift boats targeting sockeye.

Easter agreed with AFCA that the initiative was not a prohibited appropriation.

“(The initiative) does not result in a give-away program or usurp legislative control over the salmon allocation process,” Easter wrote.

In a July 23 press release, AFCA supported the decision. Singer argued the case during oral argument in April, and highlighted the history of ballot initiatives that preserve Alaska’s fish stocks.

“Alaskan voters have a long history of using ballot initiatives to protect fish and game,” Singer said in the statement.

The state’s argument relied, in part, on a prior case — Pullen vs. Ulmer — in which the court said an initiative giving preferential treatment to one user group was a prohibited appropriation.

Easter wrote in her order that the two cases were substantially different, and that comparing the two was like comparing apples and oranges.

Proponents of the setnet ban must still collect about 35,000 signatures before the question can appear on the ballot.

According a its release, AFCA will start collecting signatures once the Alaska Division of Elections finishes preparing the signature packets.

Easter’s decision may also still be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Molly Dischner can be reached at

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mikehu 07/24/14 - 01:00 am
Hope the Voters See the Bigger Picture in Mind Here

Please, you're kidding on this right? A little bit at a time is all it takes to eliminate the commercial industry

mikehu 07/24/14 - 09:25 pm
It Won't Stop Here

Just as the commercial fishing time/season was pared and sliced razor thin little by little over time - now the same thing is being done spatially/geographically, just a little at a time. After they close the northern inlet, the east side set netters and drift fleet will be next. It is a slow suffocating death with the foot on the throat being pressed down gradually.

Our political people really need to look past votes and see the economic benefits commercial fishing also brings.

KenaiKardinal88 07/24/14 - 07:36 pm
Commie Fishers Steal From Alaskans

It's summer on the Kenai and once again the commercial fishers are ruining the King and Red salmon runs.

ADF&G has always shown favoritism towards commie interests. This summer is no different.

The King salmon run is in ruins and the reds are being over-fished - all so a bunch of greedy, part-time thugs can steal from us.

Commie fishers take more from Alaska than they will ever give back.

mikehu 07/24/14 - 09:21 pm

KK there are enough fish for all of us. Heck leave the river alone for awhile and eat sockeye for a few years. The kings will come back if left to spawn once they get in river. It worked for commercial fishermen in the sixties and I bet it would work for you now. Meanwhile leave the CF industry to be managed by its own team of biologists. We've seen some swings of our own and made according changes in our 115 years on this inlet.

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