Group continues its effort to get setnet ban on ballot

JUNEAU — A proposed voter initiative to ban setnets in urban parts of Alaska is making its way toward the ballot, while a lawsuit over its legality continues.

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance has been collecting signatures throughout the state to put the proposed ban on the August 2016 ballot.

President Joe Connors said in an emailed statement that the signature-collecting is going well. “We are confident we will reach our goal,” he wrote.

Setnets are vertical nets let out from shore that catch fish. Commercial setnetters primarily target sockeye salmon, but proponents of the ban have said they are concerned that they incidentally catch too many other fish, including king salmon, in the process.

The alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, in 2013 proposed a ballot initiative asking voters whether to ban commercial setnets in parts of the state that are classified as nonsubsistence.

That would primarily affect the commercial setnet fishery in Upper Cook Inlet. According to information from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, there are about 734 active Cook Inlet setnet permits in 2015.

The group has until mid-August of this year to file the approximately 30,000 signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot. Then it will be up to the state to certify the signatures and prepare ballot language.

A final decision on whether the issue appears on the ballot likely will be left to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Then-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, in early 2014, rejected the initiative based on a state Department of Law opinion that said the ban would be a resource appropriation not allowed by ballot initiative under the Alaska Constitution.

That decision was overturned by an Anchorage Superior Court judge, and the group was allowed to begin collecting signatures.

The state appealed the Superior Court ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court, and the state submitted its final brief in April.

Oral argument in the case was requested and likely will be scheduled in August or later, according to a case manager for the court system.

A decision is also pending on a request from Resources for All Alaskans, a fishing and resources advocacy group, to participate in oral argument. Both the state and the alliance opposed that motion, and a decision had not been made as of Friday.

Jerry McCune, a board member for the group, said it wanted to give the court more information on how fisheries work in Alaska than the state provided in earlier briefs.

The group was allowed to file an amicus brief in the case.

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