An Alaska Superior Court Judge is considering oral arguments in the latest round of a dispute over a decision by Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to prevent a set netter ban initiative from getting on to the state’s primary election ballot in August 2016.
Judge Catherine Easter heard those oral arguments on April 22 in Superior Court in Anchorage and said she would issue a decision within 60 days.
The case stems from a ballot initiative application for an urban commercial set net ban sought by an organization of Kenai Peninsula sport fishing advocates, Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance.
Treadwell rejected the proposed statewide initiative that would have banned commercial shore gill nets and set nets in non-subsistence areas of the state.
His decision was based on an opinion from the state Department of Law that the proposed initiative is prohibited under the Alaska Constitution. The Law Department cited primarily a 1996 Pullen v. Ulmer decision of the Alaska Supreme Court, a case that held that salmon are assets of the state which may not be appropriated by initiative and that the preferential treatment of certain fisheries may constitute a prohibited appropriation, Treadwell said.
Anchorage attorney Matt Singer, legal counsel to the sportsmen’s group, argued that Treadwell’s decision was wrong and dangerous. “Alaskan voters have a long history of using ballot initiatives to protect fish and game,” Singer said. Using that logic, several ballot initiatives, including a ban on fish traps and same day aerial wolf hunting would never have been passed by the Alaska public, he said.
Advocates for the commercial set netters, united as Resources for All Alaskans, agree with Treadwell that a set netter ban would be unconstitutional. Resources for All Alaska, whose six member board represents a cross-section of Alaska commercial fishing interests and fishing communities, said they would continue to supplement the state’s legal arguments and work to avoid what they termed ill-conceived allocation of state assets by way of an unconstitutional initiative.
Kenai Peninsula set netter Jim Butler, president of Resources for All Alaskans, said the big deal here is the legal question.
“This is an allocation of a state asset by initiative, and that is prohibited in the constitution,” said Butler. “Essentially we believe the government was correct, that this was an inappropriate allocation of a state asset by the initiative process.”