Alaska’s highest court has reversed a lower court ruling, declaring unconstitutional a ballot initiative that would have banned set nets in Cook Inlet, Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Valdez, Juneau and Ketchikan.
In a ruling handed down on New Year’s Eve, judges on the Alaska Supreme Court found that “set netters are a distinct commercial user group that deserve recognition in the context of the constitutional prohibition on appropriations.”
The court said that the proposed ballot initiative backed by sport fishing advocates from the Kenai Peninsula “would completely appropriate salmon away from set netters and prohibit the Legislature from allocating any salmon to that user group”
The initiative, the judges said in their 22-page decision, “would result in a give-away program of salmon stock from set netters to other types of fishers, and it would significantly narrow the Legislature’s and Board of Fisheries’ range of freedom to make allocation decisions.”
The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, and Resources for All Alaskans, both of whom advocated on behalf of commercial set netters, applauded the decision.
“We are thankful the court saw this initiative for what it really was: a not so veiled attempt to eliminate more than 700 family run set net fishing businesses in Upper Cook Inlet, said Jim Butler, president of Resources for All Alaskans.
“Alaskan families who comprise Cook Inlet’s century-old East Side set net fishery are both elated and relieved that Alaska’s Supreme Court has ruled the anti-set net initiative unconstitutional,” said Andy Hall, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. “As a result of this decision, hundreds of Alaskan families will go into the new year without the threat of losing our businesses, our incomes, our investments and our way of life hanging over our heads.”
Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, which collected some 43,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, expressed disappointment.
AFCA contends that set nets have the highest rate of incidental catch of fish not targeted of any fishing method allowed in Alaska and unacceptably high rates of mortality for fish that escape the netting.