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Setnet initiative inappropriate for fish regs

Posted: July 31, 2014 - 7:21pm  |  Updated: May 22, 2015 - 5:35pm

It has been a rough couple of years for Cook Inlet fishermen.

The Kenai River guide industry has been dealt a crippling blow by the ongoing decline in returning king salmon that is deterring visitors from coming to the area for a chance at the famed fish.

The commercial setnet fishermen have been pulled out of the water and left dry so many times that it’s a wonder many of them are still in business.

Personal-use dipnet fishermen find themselves buffeted on all sides by commercial and sport fishermen angry at the intrusion and fish allocation to the relatively new user group.

Drift fishermen find themselves increasingly less effective at chasing and catching sockeye as they’re confined to restrictive corridors by managers attempting to allow fish into the northern part of the Cook Inlet where sport anglers have been railing for years about the declining returns of salmon and pointing the blame at the drift fleet.

Even the educational setnet permit holders, who represent a small fraction of the overall harvest of fish in the Cook Inlet, have seen their allowable harvest reduced in the interest of conserving king salmon.

The infighting and backbiting among user groups has been vicious, disheartening and exhausting for all involved and spawned volumes of rhetoric on the area’s “Fish Wars.”

Despite all of the vitriol, no one user group has managed to eliminate the other, though we’re sure most of them have tried. In fact, many commercial and sport fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula have publicly supported one another in the quest to find out why the king salmon runs are struggling.

But that may change now that a judge has overturned the state’s rejection of a proposed ballot initiative to ban commercial setnets in the Cook Inlet and elsewhere in the state.

The initiative was filed by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, a relatively new group formed by several members of another prominent sportfishing advocacy group — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

It would allow voters to decide at the ballot box whether to ban setnets — rather than allowing the state’s Board of Fisheries to continue to regulate gear and allocation between user groups. This initiative is a vote of “no confidence” in the state’s ability to manage its fisheries.

In fact, regulatory steps the Board has taken, including further restrictions to corridors for drift fishermen, and shallowed gear for setnet fishermen resulted in Kenai-area setnetters to get just three openings in July — all in the name of salmon conservation. In short, the board is already addressing the concerns motivating the people pushing the setnet ban.

In the minefield that is Cook Inlet fisheries management and regulation, this initiative could set off an explosive reaction.

Up until now, the Board of Fisheries has been tasked with regulating fisheries in the state and its members have been equipped with the knowledge to do so by their experience and the research and hard work of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A ballot initiative to ban a gear type has the potential to allow hundreds of thousands of Alaskans from outside the Kenai Peninsula to decide the future of the commercial setnet industry that generates millions in revenue for our local economy.

If the initiative is successful, it paves the way for fishing regulations to be decided at the ballot box and bypasses the Board of Fisheries’ process and purpose for existence.

It is a dangerous precedent to set and while we believe that evolving fisheries require fishermen who are willing to adapt, the regulation of a multi-billion dollar industry and the state’s No. 1 private sector employer through the ballot box is not the way to ensure that the state’s fisheries are prosecuted safely, fairly and with the upmost regard for the resource.

In fact, ballot-box fisheries regulation seems like a surefire way to ensure that the Fish Wars continue for years to come.

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Paul Dale
Paul Dale 08/01/14 - 09:20 pm
banning setnetter initiative

What a wonderful and succinct statement on this issue, it could hardly have been said better. Thank you for this important and insightful commentary on a boneheaded and selfish approach to a complicated and contentious issue. Bob Penney and friends should rethink what they are doing, they certainly bring no honor to the process, much less themselves.

KenaiKardinal88 08/03/14 - 07:33 am
Barf Alert - Commie Fishers Destroy Fun For Alaskans

The commercial fishing interests come at the expense of the average Alaskan.

The hoax of "over-escapement" and "there won't be enough oxygen in the water" is preposterous.

The next time you try and fish the Kenai and there are little to no salmon - thank the commercial fishing interests.

AK4LIFE 08/03/14 - 08:29 am
Kenai Kardinal

Your the one committing verbal vomit, by making such uneducated comments based on your own selfish need for fish. You have no clue what your talking about & if you think that the commercial fisherman are the reason your not catching fish then maybe you should hit up the fish tank at the sports show next year & have some kids teach ya a few things. I'd like to know who or where gave you such ideas. Commercial fishing FAMILYS ( your fellow residents) have been out there for over 100 years with healthy returns, based on non-political science based management. Fast forward to the past 10 years, add 1000's of additional anglers running up & down the river in 1000's of boats, fishing in spawning grounds. Add 30,000+ dip netters a year & suddenly the commercial fisherman are to blame. Seriously?? That's the type of political garb that is put out there by special interest groups that lobby politicians in the pursuit of getting re-elected by a growing population of needed, selfish residents whom can't look past there own bellys & entertainment to see the bigger picture.

leewaytooo 08/04/14 - 04:56 am
make the river drift boat

make the river drift boat only and

reroute the sewer from Soldotna to Kenai's

sewer plant...pooping in your crib is always bad.

it is a start...

does anyone really think that the population of people

is going anywhere other than up?

just as there was a limit placed on drift boats and

set netters there needs to be a limit set on river fishing,

dip netting.

a lottery for dip netting with locals first.

no different that charging more for out of state

fish and game licenses.

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