Seawatch: Micciche proposes setnet buyback bill

Sen. Pete Micciche (R-Soldotna) is having another go at getting a bill through the legislature that would reduce the number of commercial east side setnetters in Upper Cook Inlet by about half, something that is supported by the leaders of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, a setnetter organization.

Micciche and KPFA say the effort began about four years ago, and Micciche pre-filed a bill before the last legislative session.

That bill, Senate Bill 135, stated that “the Alaska Legislature finds that it is in the public interest to reduce the number of commercial setnet fishers on the east side of Cook Inlet.”

The current iteration, SB90, varies little from the original other than the potential scope of the buyback, up to 50 percent of permits from the original 40 percent.

The sponsor statement says that “SB 90 is the result of sport and commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet working together toward a viable solution. Alaskans aware of the struggles between user groups when it comes to Cook Inlet fisheries know that it is a rare occurrence for agreement on a major policy call that affects all of them. For decades there has been an unhealthy tension between commercial setnet fishermen who fish on the east side of Cook Inlet and other user groups on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. This legislation will help alleviate a significant proportion of that tension.”

The sponsor statement goes on to relate that “in the 1980s there was a migration of setnet fishermen to the east side of Cook Inlet. Returns were large, fishing in the area was lucrative and access to processors was easy; it therefore held great appeal to commercial fishermen. As pressure on stocks increased and commercial fishing profitability began to wane, processors began leaving the area. Over time, setnet fishermen saw fewer and fewer opportunities to fish. In recent years there have been very few openings during the entire season.”

There is no mention in the statement of the pressure from sport fishermen and fishing guides in-river that have contributed to the decline of king salmon in the Kenai River that is the cause of those mentioned closures of the setnet fishery.

Both bills have a suggested a buyback price of $260,000 per permit, while currently UCI setnet permits are listed between $85,000 and $100,000.

Micciche suggests private funds may be available to purchase the permits.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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