By Jenny Neyman
A proposed ballot initiative that would ban set-netting in nonsubsistence areas of the state, Cook Inlet chief among them, was snagged from going to the signature-gathering stage by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who announced Monday that he was rejecting the initiative on the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Law.
The newly formed Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance submitted the measure Nov. 6 as a conservation effort to protect declining king salmon runs, charging that set netting catches too many kings, even though the gear type targets other species of salmon.
Clark Penney, executive director, said in a release Monday that the rejection is “puzzling” and the alliance is considering appealing the decision. It has 30 days from Monday to do so.
The Division of Elections determined that the initiative proposal does have enough valid sponsors to continue to the step of gathering voter signatures statewide, Treadwell notes in a letter to the AFCA. However, he states that the Department of Law recommended rejection because the effect of the proposal would result in an allocation of resources (in this case, king salmon) prohibited by the Alaska Constitution, based on the 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision in Pullen v. Ulmer, finding that preferential treatment of certain fisheries over others is an appropriation not allowed by initiative.
“Were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish — for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dip-netting or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users. This would ‘prevent … real regulation and careful administration’ of Alaska’s salmon stocks, contrary to the purpose of the prohibition on initiative by appropriation,” according to the Department of Law’s opinion.
The AFCA points out that Alaska’s first ballot initiative regarded banning the use of fish traps as a fishing method, as it was seen as outdated and destructive. Penney also states that the terms of the proposed ban would be applied statewide.
The Department of Law opinion takes a different view — that by banning set netting in all areas of the state without a subsistence designation, the ban would still effectively target Southcentral because other urban areas — such as Juneau and Valdez — don’t have set netting. As such, the ban would allocate kings away from the inlet’s east side set-net fishery to in-river sport and personal-use fisheries, making it an appropriation not allowed by initiative, the Department of Law states.
“This effort is but the latest in a long string of initiatives where Alaskans have exercised their rights to protect fish and wildlife by regulating improper methods and means for harvest,” Penney states, pointing to Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York, California, Washington and Oregon as other states that have restricted or banned the use of set nets.
“In the 25 years since the first state took this step, no set nets have been allowed to return. Not one fish processor in these states went out of business after set nets were banned,” Penney states.