ANCHORAGE, Alaska (June 10, 2015)—The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance (AFCA) provided the signatures of more than 43,000 Alaskans today to the Alaska Division of Elections that ask for a public vote to ban commercial set net fishing in the five urban, non-subsistence areas of Alaska. AFCA expects there will be more than enough valid signatures to approve a public vote scheduled for the primary in August of 2016.
“We started this process more than a year ago and now believe more than ever that Alaskans want to end this devastating, outdated mode of commercial fishing. It is time for set nets in urban Alaska to go away,” said AFCA president Joe Connors, a former Cook Inlet set-netter and a sport fishing lodge owner on the Kenai River. “It is time the fish come first. We must protect Alaska wild salmon stocks, and banning set nets in the non-subsistence areas of Alaska is the best way forward.”
According to state law, an organization must collect the signatures of more than 30,000 registered Alaska voters (10 percent of the vote total from the preceding statewide election) from 30 of Alaska’s 40 voting districts to place an initiative on the ballot.
AFCA collected the signature booklets from the Alaska Division of Elections Saturday, August 16, 2014 and had a full calendar year to gather the necessary signatures; it took only eight months.
"AFCA is not against set netters; we are against set nets,” said board member Bob Penney. “Our effort opposes set nets as a specific gear type, not the people who use them. We totally support more sustainable types of commercial fishing such as some form of containment nets. The Board of Fisheries is responsible for selecting the type of nets or gear that would replace the set nets.”
Alaska prides itself on being a world model for conservation-based, sustainable, wild fisheries. The majority of Alaska’s fishing industry works vigilantly to ensure fish stocks will be available to future generations. Commercial, non-subsistence set nets in urban areas, however, have the highest rates of by catch of any gear type allowed in Alaska and threaten the sustainability of fisheries.
“We were formed as a conservation-based organization; protecting wild salmon and other fish stocks in Alaska is our mission, and we think it matters to most Alaskans,” said AFCA executive director Clark Penney. “AFCA supports commercial fishing and the seafood they put in our stores, as well as the economic support and jobs they provide around Alaska. However, AFCA just wants set nets in urban, non-subsistence areas of Alaska to go because they damage the sustainability of valuable resources.”
AFCA filed an application for a ballot initiative with then Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in November 2013. The Lt. Governor’s office rejected the application in January 2014. AFCA appealed the decision to the Anchorage Superior Court and won the challenge. The State of Alaska challenged the Superior Court ruling, and the case now sits before the Alaska Supreme Court. Oral arguments on the case are expected later this year, with a decision following the oral arguments. There is no specific timeline for a decision.
If allowed by the Alaska Supreme Court, AFCA expects the initiative would be on the Alaska Primary Election Ballot in August 2016, giving nearly a year for public discussion of the issue.
The five state-designated, urban, non-subsistence areas are most of the areas immediately surrounding Anchorage (including the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough), Fairbanks, Juneau, Valdez and Ketchikan. The initiative would not affect subsistence or personal-use fishing such as dip netting.
Employing a type of containment net such as beach seines, purse seines, dip nets, fish wheels or other options would stop the devastating bycatch occurring today. Thousands of fish and animals, including flounders, halibut, king salmon, salmon shark, birds and other marine mammals, would no longer become a victim to these outdated, bycatch-laden set nets. Set nets are a predatory mode of fishing that kills or maims anything in its path.
Alaska has a long history of allowing voters to decide resource management issues. Alaskans voted to ban fish traps in 1956 and the law took effect with statehood in 1959. Alaskans also voted to ban same-day aerial wolf hunting because the practice was not in line with the majority of Alaskans’ values.
Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York and California have all banned set nets, and Washington and Oregon have severely restricted commercial set nets.
AFCA board member Derek Leichliter said, “Healthy fish stocks require good stewardship. The fish won’t last forever if we over harvest them. This is why the unhealthy, unmanageable commercial set net fisheries in Alaska’s five urban, non-subsistence areas must end. There are many other ways to catch these sockeye.”