A proposed initiative to ban commercial
setnetting was rejected earlier this week by Lt. Governor Mead
Treadwell. He was in Kodiak Wednesday, campaigning for his Senate run
and talked about that decision, and the previous court cases that were
used to make it. KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran has more.
KMXT’s Jay Barrett contributed to this story.
A 12-page opinion from the Department of Law was the basis for
Treadwell’s decision. It cited one main court case from 1996, but the
basic precedent goes back much farther.
“I’ll go back to the
Bern-Homestead Initiative in 1978, where Alaskans voted to have a new
homesteading program, and the Supreme Court later on said, ‘Wait a
second, you’re appropriate a state asset of land, and the constitution
says you can’t do that by initiative.’”
That same principle was
at the heart of this decision. The group that introduced the initiative,
the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, was calling for a ban on
commercial setnetting in all urban areas of the state. But in reality,
the only urban area of the state that has a commercial setnet fishery is
Cook Inlet, where more than 700 permits are issued. Treadwell says on
first read, it didn’t appear to be an allocative issue. Those decisions
are left to the Board of Fish.
“We looked at and initially, the
legal analysis was, well this is a gear type decision and not an
allocation decision. It might be able to go forward. And that was their
The case the Department of Law used a case called
Pullen vs. Ulmer as the basis for its opinion. That case was also about a
ballot measure. It wanted voters to give preference for a portion of
the salmon harvest to subsistence, personal use and sport fisheries,
then allocate the rest to other users. The problem is that, according to
the law, salmon are considered a state asset.
decision makes it very clear if there’s a, in essence, a self-serving
allocation, or an allocative effect all told, it’s not an appropriate
use of the initiative, and so based on that opinion, it was turned
In a news release after the Lt. Governor announced his
decision, AFCA Board Chair Bill MacKay said the initiative “seeks no
authority to regulate or allocate fisheries management in our state.”
And that the group should be out gathering signatures instead of looking
into a possible lawsuit. The group’s executive director, Clark Penney,
thanked Treadwell and the law department for their due diligence, but
said he was puzzled by the decision and struggled to see the logic or
the legality of it. The AFCA pointed to one of the state’s first ballot
initiatives, a ban on fish traps in the 50’s, as precedent for their
ballot measure. In addition to that, the group noted similar bans in
Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York and California.
Treadwell says he isn’t surprised or worried about a potential lawsuit.
“You know as soon as I raised my right hand to be lieutenant governor
I was being sued by Joe Miller, so I’m used to that. But as a result of
these lawsuits, we may get clearer law. But, we did turn down this
initiative, and I know that made the commercial groups happy and some of
the sportsfishing groups unhappy”
He had some advice for the group moving forward; go through the normal process of managing fisheries.
“Go back to the fish board, let’s try to make sure that setnets are
not doing what they’re not supposed to be doing, and let’s do some other
things we can do for conservation in the river as well”
King salmon management is sure to be the hot-button issue when the Board of Fish meets later this month in Anchorage.