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Positively un-Alaskan ban on Cook Inlet setnetters must not go before voters

Lillian Person

As lifelong Alaskans, we have always been proud to be able to live here, work here and provide a lifestyle for our children that they could someday provide for their children, too.  We work hard and have tried to teach our kids the same work ethic while enjoying the beauty, bounty and renewable resources of our state.

My family represents three generations of setnetters in Cook Inlet. Our story is like so many other Alaskans -- harvesting our renewable, natural resources while trying to meet our financial responsibilities. The recently proposed setnetter ban initiative would put us -- and 500 other Alaskan families just like ours -- immediately out of work. The group behind the proposal, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, is seeking to ban all setnetters in urban areas, which means my family and hundreds of others stand to lose our lifestyle and core identity, not to mention means of financial support.

The alliance and its cohorts, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, are pushing a hypocritical conservation agenda. This attack on our industry is put forward by proponents as a conservation issue,  but ultimately it is an attempt to monopolize a productively shared resource. The only thing they are “conserving” is their ability to represent their own interests and line their own pockets at the expense of others.  

Our state has been blessed with enough natural resources that no one industry should be told they cannot exist simply because another wants more. It’s wrong and it’s un-Alaskan.

Currently, there are more than 5,000 commercial fishing jobs in Cook Inlet and upwards of 80 percent of these people live in Alaska. A 2013 study by Northern Economics indicates that over $100 million are paid to these workers every year. That’s money that is being invested in our local communities that we cannot afford to lose. It’s money that families like ours use to pay our children and deckhands so that they (like us) can be responsible members of society and pay for their college, rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, taxes and other essential expenses. It’s cash that supports retail establishments and local vendors. It’s a critical part of our Southcentral economy that Alaska cannot afford to lose.

Despite all this, there is a small group of urban-based, privileged individuals who are seeking to destroy a critical foundation of our local economy in favor of their own interests. They are willing to destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of Alaskans like myself. This is an unconstitutional allocation of resources, serving the interests of only a few.

There are numerous organizations in both the public and private sectors opposing this job-killing measure. Unanimous, bipartisan resolutions have been passed by the Kenai City Council and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Local commercial and sportfishing groups, including the Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition have also come out against the initiative. Opposition from the resident sportfishing organization is a testament to the wide-ranging resistance the initiative has generated on both sides.

Alaska’s attorney general and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell recently ruled that putting the setnetter ban on a public ballot would be unconstitutional. For the time being, it will not appear on the August 2016 ballot, although its sponsors are working at dragging Treadwell’s office into a costly lawsuit to overturn his decision. In the meantime, the initiative sponsors and their allies pushed aggressive proposals through the Board of Fisheries that will unfairly restrict not only setnetters -- but drift gillnetters as well.

Eliminating some Alaskans' ability to harvest our renewable, natural resources goes directly against the ideas that makes this state a great place to live and raise our families. As Alaskans, we believe in freedom, family, and the right to make a living by working hard, being responsible and playing by the rules. The setnetter ban violates these ideals. It’s unnecessary and unconstitutional. But above all else, the ban would be a blow to Alaska’s economy and many small family businesses.

Lillian Person is a setnetter living in Chugiak. She is a member of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and the Chugiak-Eagle River Women in Business.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.