Voices of Alaska: Motive behind set net ban is reallocation

  • By Jerry McCune
  • Thursday, August 20, 2015 4:31pm
  • Opinion

This is about the anti-set net ballot initiative that is before the Alaska Supreme Court and the devastating effect it will have on commercial fishing and other resource extraction industries throughout Alaska if it makes it onto the ballot.

Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance (AFCA), the group sponsoring the anti-setnet initiative, claims that its efforts are not an attack on commercial fishing, the group’s actions, however, speak louder than words. Approval of the initiative would change the landscape for commercial fishing and resource extraction industries statewide. If the Supreme Court finds that the initiative is constitutional and allows it on the ballot, similar initiatives will be launched against other fisheries around the state as well as other resource users, based on a well-financed (and deceptive) Methods & Means argument. Once this basis of initiative moves forward it no longer matters what AFCA marketing consultants say they will or won’t do regarding attacks on other fisheries, this approach opens the door for similar assaults on other industries.

The claims that set nets catch non-targeted species in “urban” or any other areas are as laughable as they are intentionally dishonest. Cook Inlet has the strongest tides in the world and set net fishery has evolved over its century-long existence to harvest salmon efficiently and cleanly. The National Marine Fisheries Service has observed the set net fisheries across the state and based on those observations the agency has deemed set nets to be one of the cleanest fisheries in the state. These set nets can’t just be replaced with dipnets or other gear types. In addition, commercial access is limited and one type of harvest permit cannot simply be traded for another. And, regardless of the claims put forward by the initiative sponsors, there is no need to eliminate set nets.

The AFCA wants to ban set nets in Anchorage Cook Inlet, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Valdez, Juneau, and Ketchikan. With the exception of Cook Inlet, none of these areas are home to set net fisheries and none will be in the future. Including those areas is nothing more than a thinly veiled scheme put this attack on a small, local fishery onto a statewide ballot. If you doubt this, look at AFCA’s literature, its fundraising efforts are focused solely on Cook Inlet.

I have been fishing since I was 10 years old and I am proud to say my son and daughter fish also now. The proposed set net ban seeks to eliminate a group of small business owners that consists of over 85 percent Alaska residents. Do we really want to put all of these families and crews out of business? Is this the Alaska we want as we face challenging and complex economic challenges ahead?

What is this initiative really about? It is a reallocation of the resource from one commercial fishery — set netters, to another — commercial sportfishing guides. Elimination of this group of small business owners in Cook Inlet — with no compensation for their investment over generations will devastate these Alaskans. Worse, the initiative will do nothing to conserve salmon. It will eliminate the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ability to halt over escapement and future runs will diminish resulting in fewer salmon for all.

Commercial fishing is critical industry to Alaska’s economy and provides jobs and tax income to cities and boroughs alike. What will happen to south-central Alaska when it loses those tax revenues? Taxes will go up for all residents. What happens to the 700 set net families and their crews if they can’t set net anymore and their life’s investment becomes worthless because “neighbors” from Bethel to Ketchikan — of the Mat Su valley simply vote them out of business? What about the processing plants, local jobs and other economic benefits that commercial fishing creates? What happens when 10 million sockeye return into Cook Inlet? Who will stop the salmon? The river would be overwhelmed with returning salmon, far more than could be harvested by sport and personal use methods. The harvestable surplus will go to waste and future runs will be devastated.

This anti set net initiative is a shameless allocation, not a conservation effort plain and simple — the initiative’s sponsors have no data to support their claims, just a lot of money and a slick marketing group spinning the truth — beware! This initiative would open the door to attack other resource industries such as oil and gas mining. Don’t believe that families who have fished for generations would ever engage in fishing practices that harm the resource or their family business. Do question the motives and message of the funders of AFCA to see what really motivates them.

Please take the time to study this initiative and learn the real facts behind it. Your neighbors small business depends on it.

Jerry McCune is the President of United Fishermen of Alaska, a fisheries advocate and lifelong commercial fishermen in Prince William Sound.

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