Group proposes ban of set nets for Kenai salmon

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sport fisherman upset about the low number of king salmon in the Kenai River and restrictions on anglers are taking aim at a competing user group.

A new organization calling itself the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance is proposing a ban on commercial set net fishing in “urban” Alaska, which would include Cook Inlet.

Kenai River kings are threatened by overfishing and bycatch, according to the group. Commercial set nets make the problem worse, the group said in a prepared statement.

“There is no debating that king salmon stocks in Cook Inlet are at historic lows,” the group said. “Setnets are indiscriminate killing machines and it is time they are banned in urban areas in Alaska.”

Set nets are linear nets placed perpendicular to shore. One end is anchored on a beach and the other in the water. Much of their catch is smaller sockeye salmon.

About 750 people in 400 fishing families hold permits in Cook Inlet, according to the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association. The association had no immediate comment on the proposal but third-generation commercial fisherman Travis Every said some families make their entire living catching fish with set nets, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life, and kind of an identity,” he said. “It’s who we are, for me personally and my family.”

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries biologist Pat Shields said set nets catch about 13 percent of king salmon. Sport fishermen take twice that number and the opportunity for a trophy that can reach 70 to 90 pounds drives anglers to book trips with guides and lodges.

Sterling lodge owner Joe Connors said conditions for anglers to catch king salmon last summer were “catastrophic.”

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance filed paperwork Wednesday to put the urban set net ban on the August 2016 primary ballot. It would cover Anchorage, the Kenai River, Cook Inlet, Valdez, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan and Matanuska-Susitna locations.

The measure would not affect subsistence fishing.

The Department of Law will decide within 60 days whether the measure is legal.

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