It looks like the Cook Inlet fish wars will soon ramp up to a new level. Voters may have a chance to decide whether to ban setnets in urban areas.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance (AFCA), which represents sport fishermen, has scored a major court victory.
Alaska Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter ruled favorably on the alliance’s petition to ban setnetting on Wednesday.
Although the petition doesn’t specifically name Cook Inlet setnetters, the language of the petition appears to target them.
The setnetters fish for sockeyes, but catch kings incidentally. AFCA wants to stop them from fishing completely. While this might help protect the endangered king salmon, it would also make more Cook Inlet salmon available for sport fishermen and dipnetters.
The judge said Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell was wrong to block the petition.
Treadwell based his decision on an opinion from the Alaska Department of Law, which said the petition violates provisions in the Alaska constitution — which treats fish and game resources as a state asset.
Treadwell said the proposed initiative, if passed, would have the effect of allocating fish between user groups. The Department’s opinion also said the passage of the initiative could set a bad precedent — that the state might face future petition drives seeking to outlaw other gear types.
Opponents of the petition have decried it as “ballot box biology,” and said fishery allocation decisions should be made by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
“Alaskans have a long history of using ballot initiatives to protect fish and game,” said the AFCA’s attorney Matt Singer in a prepared statement.
The next step for the alliance is to collect 35,000 signatures — the required number to put the measure on the ballot.
The AFCA aims to put the initiative before voters in 2016.
Click here to see the judge’s order.