Commercial fishing groups are pushing back against a proposed ballot initiative that would ban a sector of their industry.
Fish politics can be messy stuff. They’re complicated; they’re emotional, and there’s a lot of money involved. Now that a group with ties to the sportfishing lobby is trying to put the existence of the Cook Inlet setnet fishery to a vote, fish politics are being taken to their messy extreme.
When the initiative application was filed last week, commercial fishing groups were mostly quiet. Now, they’re issuing full-throated denunciations of the move to prohibit set-netting in urban areas. “Theatrics and political games” is how the United Fishermen of Alaska — or UFA — is describing it. The Alaska Salmon Alliance — another trade group — has called the initiative a “public relations scam” meant to pressure the Legislature into giving sport and personal-use fishermen more access to Kenai River king salmon.
Andy Hall directs the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, and he thinks the initiative is more about allocation of fish than conservation:
“They’re down in the Legislature trying to get somebody kicked of the Board of Fish, or eavesdropping on the UFA annual meeting, or, you know, kicking off some initiative to put a bunch of people out of business. That’s not conservation. Maybe they’re conserving an opportunity for themselves to partake of, but, boy, I don’t see any king salmon conservation.”
Conservation groups also question the motives of the initiative sponsors. Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson says the group behind the initiative hasn’t reached out to him, and that they would be focusing more on habitat measures if they were concerned about improving the fishery. Shavelson also worries about having fisheries management decided by a public vote instead of going through the established process.
“I think it’s a horrible precedent. I think it’s people who have money and political influence trying to drive their agenda in a way that is totally outside the science basis where we should be making decisions.”
Sponsors of the initiative have used their own searing rhetoric to describe their goals. Joe Connors, who is heading up the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has described set-netters as creating a “wall of death” that is crippling the king salmon stock. This past year, commercial fishermen took 1,800 kings bound for the Kenai River. Sportfishermen took about 1,600, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance turned in their ballot application to the Division of Elections last week. If their application is approved, they would have to go through a long signature campaign before earning a spot on the 2016 primary ballot.
KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran contributed reporting to this story.