Initiative would ban setnetting in Cook Inlet

The effort by a new group calling itself the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance to put a ballot initiative in front of voters that would ban setnetting in Cook Inlet has drawn swift and sharp criticism from the fishing industry.

AFCA is the product of millionaire businessman and Kenai River-front property owner Bob Penney, and while the ballot initiative would ban setnetting in “all non-subsistence areas” of the state, it is a thinly veiled effort to eliminate the Cook Inlet setnetting industry, since it is the only area of the state that would be affected. 

Bristol Bay, the only other area with a substantial setnet fishery, is not covered in the initiative.

In a press statement, Penney says “Why is the initiative needed? In short, this initiative is all about conservation. Setnets are the most indiscriminate means of fishing allowed in state waters, with the largest amount of by-catch of any fishery. Because of how they are fixed in place, they usually catch and kill every species of fish that is swimming by, including our prized king salmon.”

In its response, Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, a setnet group, points out, “This initiative is statewide in name only. Urban areas beyond Cook Inlet are included only as an attempt to clear constitutional hurdles put in place to prevent this kind of ballot box resource management that targets one specific user group.”

KPFA adds, “Contrary to the assertions set forth by the sponsors of this initiative, setnets are highly selective harvest tools that effectively target sockeye and pink salmon. King salmon comprise less than one percent of the East Side setnet catch.”  

King salmon abundance is low state-wide, but Kenai kings are not listed as a stock of concern, and have met their minimum escapement goals every year for the past 27 years, and exceeded it in 9 of the last 10 years.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics show that setnetters catch about 13 percent of the late-run Kenai River king salmon, and none of the early run.

The eastside setnet fishery is unique in the number of Alaska residents who hold the permits. 

There are 720 permits held in 400 fishing families. Eighty-four percent of those are held by Alaska residents, and 80 percent of the resident permit holders live on the Kenai Peninsula. 

The Alaska Salmon Alliance, an industry group that seeks to build a consensus around sustainable, science-based fishery management, was even more pointed in its response, saying that it is no secret that Penney has worked for years to eliminate the Cook Inlet setnet fishery, calling this latest effort a “public relations scam.”

“Their justification centers on exaggerated and wholly fallacious claims of the ‘indiscriminate high bycatch of all species of fish,’ including Kenai River king salmon. These claims are based on something, but it certainly isn’t science or the best management practices of Alaska’s fisheries management system,” their statement said.

It continued, “The ballot initiative to ban a century-old resident-based commercial setnet fishery is an incremental step to eliminating an entire industry. The public relations heat is poured on by the use of language that is inflammatory, bordering on slanderous.”

ASA points out that Penney’s group does not seem to acknowledge any of the in-river issues that may be affecting king salmon populations.

“These include decades of hydrocarbon pollution, decades of targeting of trophy kings by anglers, altering the genetic stock, ignored mortality from chronic hook and release fishing, damage to main-stem spawning beds by huge numbers of boats and anglers and turbidity caused by bank erosion from foot traffic and boat wakes,” they said.

It remains to be seen whether the initiative will pass the legal test and make it onto the ballot, but when the story appeared in the Anchorage Daily News, presumably Penney’s intended audience, the comments section was universally against his proposal.

One commenter pointed out how few kings are affected. 

“Settnetters catch 13 percent of all (late-run) kings in the Kenai. Isn’t that a fair allocation?” he wrote.

Others pointed out that the guide industry has resisted setting aside spawning beds as sanctuaries, while still others called it a resource grab.

Several pointed out that the setnet fishery has been around for more than a century, as a proud Alaska tradition.

The idea may not get much support in the Mat-Su Borough, either, as it would require ADFG to use the drift fleet exclusively to control sockeye escapement in the Kenai River, which would put more pressure on northern-bound stocks.


It took the Bering Sea crab fleet just 16 days to catch 94 percent of the king crab quota, in spite of storm- and hurricane-force winds for much of the season.

One boat reported catching 90,000 pounds of king crab in just two days.

Eighty or so boats participating made 226 landings totaling 7.3 million pounds by Nov. 10, leaving just 400,000 pounds to go. 

Worries about the delay in the season impacting shipments to Japan for the holiday season proved unnecessary, as processors have actually increased the amount shipped there to about 60 percent of the pack.

However, is reporting prices in Japan are down about 11 percent.


In an effort to save money, NOAA will no longer be printing paper charts.

The agency will still chart the water for rocks, shipwrecks and other hazards, but sailors, boaters and fishermen will have to use private on-demand printing, PDFs or electronic maps to see the information. 

Although most people now use digital plotters, NOAA still prints about 60,000 charts per year, and sells them for about $20 each, about the cost of printing. 

Digital charts do not have the same level of detail, especially of surrounding land features.

It costs NOAA about $100 million a year to survey and chart the nation’s waters. The agency will still spend the same money, but provide the information in the less traditional way.

Prince William Sound is one of the top-selling charts in the nation.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at