Commercial fishermen seek to challenge fishing restrictions

Posted: Friday, November 24, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Cook Inlet commercial fishermen are trying again to put together the money for a lawsuit to challenge increasing restrictions on their livelihood.

The fishermen have revamped an old group for the effort to prove that growing restrictions by the state fish board constitute an illegal taking of permit-holders' property.

''I want to get our fishery saved,'' said Ninilchik setnetter Doug Blossom, president of the revitalized Cook Inlet Fishermen's Fund Inc.

''After 51 years in the fishery, we're losing it,'' said Blossom. ''I've got grandkids in the fishery, and they're losing it. That bothers me.''

A core group has been trying for years to raise money for a lawsuit through a Minnesota law firm and Soldotna attorney Chuck Robinson, who also is a setnetter.

Joe Malatesta Sr., executive director of the Fishermen's Fund, said limited entry salmon permits can be bought and sold and used as collateral. Essentially, they are property, he said, and restrictions the Board of Fisheries has imposed on Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries constitute an uncompensated taking of their property.

Lawyers say they need $500,000 for the first phase of the case, in which plaintiffs would ask the court to rule that the restrictions on commercial salmon fisheries constitute an uncompensated taking. A second phase would determine actual damages. Organizers have asked Cook Inlet permit holders to contribute $1,256 each toward the $500,000 goal.

Malatesta said 415 fishermen have signed contracts to join the suit, but just 145 have contributed the full $1,256. A trust account with the attorneys now contains roughly $180,000, he said. So, the effort to revamp the Cook Inlet Fishermen's Fund -- which Blossom said was founded in 1976 to fight issues such as problems with sonar fish counters. A Fishermen's Fund meeting Tuesday in Kenai drew about 35 people.

Only holders of Cook Inlet driftnet, setnet and seine permits or federal individual fishing quotas can become voting members, Malatesta said. Anyone who supports commercial fishing can become a nonvoting member.

The lawsuit, if it is eventually filed, will take years. In the meantime, the fund may lobby the Legislature.

Malatesta said the Fishermen's Fund will keep contributions for the lawsuit in a separate account and refund them if plans for the lawsuit are abandoned. Other money the Fishermen's Fund raises could fund a war chest to litigate against future assaults on commercial fishing.

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